You shouldn’t pop a pimple on your face. But you really shouldn’t pop a pimple in the “triangle of death” on your face.
Sounds crazy, but that location actually exists—and it can be just as dangerous as it sounds.
Experts don’t exactly call it the “triangle of death” —they tend to refer to it as the slightly less ominous “danger triangle”—but they’re referring to the same area: the skin that stretches from the corners of your mouth to the bridge of your nose.
So what makes popping a pimple so much more dangerous here than, say, bursting one smack in the middle of your forehead?
The reason for heightened concern here is the blood supply in this particular facial region, according to Jeremy Brauer, M.D., clinical assistant professor in the department of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center. The veins in your “danger triangle” ultimately lead back to your cavernous sinus, located in your brain, he says.
So let’s say you pop a pimple there. That can create an open wound, and if bacteria get in there—say, you touch your face without washing dirty hands—you can develop an infection. And that hypothetical infection is why your “danger triangle” could be deadly.
“If there were a serious skin infection in this area that went untreated, and then subsequently tracked back to the brain, it could theoretically prove fatal,” says Dr. Brauer. That’s because it could cause blood clots, which might lead to stroke. (Popping a pimple in other places like your cheeks, chin, or forehead could still lead to an infection, but the effects of that would likely only be scarring or pigmentation changes, since the those areas lack the direct blood supply route to your brain.)
Yes, that means popping a pimple could actually kill you. But the chances of it really happening are exceedingly low, he says. One reason? These types of infections are treatable with antibiotics—and they would have to rage on for quite awhile before it could make its way to your brain.
And since infections there would usually come with pretty noticeable symptoms like redness, swelling, tenderness, drainage, and bleeding—or if the pimple keeps coming back and filling with pus—they probably aren’t something you would just let go.
Still, since it can happen, he advises caution with pimples in this area. Don’t pop if you can help it, and if you can’t—hey, we’ve all been there—then watch for signs of infection. If you notice them, see your doctor, stat. He or she will determine whether you need an antibiotic.
Your better option: holding a hot washcloth to the spot for one minute, then applying a 10 percent benzoyl peroxide cream, as we reported. One option?Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Spot Gel.
But if the zit is particularly bothersome, your dermatologist can inject the area with an intralesional steroid, says Alan Parks, M.D., dermatologist and founder of skincare siteDermWarehouse. This will reduce inflammation and banish your zit in a couple days.
Outside of the ominous “danger triangle,” popping a pimple can still be a bummer, but not a killer. Dr. Brauer says the danger of popping in other areas—like the cheeks, chin, or forehead—could still be infection, but that would lead toward scarring and pigmentation changes, not flirting with death.