Can Pimples in the "Danger Triangle" Really Kill You? An Investigation

POPSUGAR Photography | Maria del Rio
POPSUGAR Photography | Maria del Rio

As much as I am ashamed to admit it, I still compulsively pick at my skin. Nothing — from Post-it notes to throwing out our magnifying mirror — has stopped me from clawing at my complexion. That is, until I heard about "the danger triangle" from YourTango.

Look at your face in the mirror. Imagine there is a dot on the bridge of your nose and one at either corner of your mouth, then mentally connect them to form a triangle. According to YourTango, you should never pick at pimples in this patch of skin. Supposedly, should you incur an infection in this area, it could kill you.

Shaken up by the very thought of this (could I have a deadly infection right now?!), I sought the intel of three dermatologists: Dr. Julie Russak, founder of Russak Dermatology Clinic; Cane + Austin founder Dr. Craig Austin; and Sadick Dermatology owner Dr. Neil Sadick.

While she admitted an infection of this magnitude would be very rare, Dr. Russak acknowledged that this is a dangerous location for a blemish to appear.

"It is a very vascular area with a lot of blood vessels that connect to the cavernous sinus," she explained. "Cysts and pimples contain bacteria, and if we pop them or if they rupture, there is a small possibility that the bacteria can get into the bloodstream, leading to an infection in the brain."

Dr. Austin agreed, adding, "Theoretically, an infection from a cyst or abscess could possibly spread and lead to cavernous sinus thrombosis."

Cavernous sinus thrombosis is a very serious condition that is characterized by a blood clot that blocks a vein behind the eye sockets. Symptoms include fever, severe headache, and blurred vision. This could lead to a retrograde infection, complicating your ailment and making you even sicker. That said, the initial diagnosis of cavernous sinus thrombosis should be something that should terrify you, as it causes death in 30 percent of cases.

However, Dr. Sadick disagreed, declaring the "danger triangle" nothing to worry about. "Although there are many blood vessels located in this zone and there is a potential risk of infection, squeezing acne lesions in this area to cause an infection to enter the bloodstream is a very minor and insignificant concern," he said.

In this day and age, where powerful antibiotics are readily available, you should not be paranoid that a pimple in the middle of your face will put you in peril. Instead, you should be troubled by a less deadly (and more cosmetic) issue.

"Ultimately, you really shouldn't be popping anything on your face because it could lead to scarring, which is really the problem to be more concerned about," Dr. Austin said. Your picking could also cause dark marks on your skin. "This area is prone to postinflammatory hyperpigmentation," Dr. Russak warned. "If more inflammation is created by popping at home, one can be left with a brown spot for months to come."

However, all three dermatologists do agree that if your pimple becomes more significant than a common whitehead, you should visit a doctor for treatment.

"The size of the pimple — as opposed to the location — is really what you want to be aware of," Dr. Austin remarked. "If you have anything larger than a whitehead or lasting over a week, you should always consult your dermatologist." A typical whitehead is about one to two millimeters, so if your spot is bigger, it's worth getting it checked out.

Dr. Russak added, "If it is very red or the redness is spreading, or you are observing tenderness or drainage, then it could be a sign of a localized infection."

If you begin to experience chills or night sweats or are suffering from a fever, you could have a bloodstream infection. In this case, you should absolutely visit a doctor. Otherwise, leave it alone and stop picking!