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Could Popping a Pimple Really Kill You? A Doctor Explains the ‘Triangle of Death’

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Neha Pathak, MD - Blogs
By Neha Pathak, MDBoard-certified internistJune 4, 2018

There are many triangles that we’ve been told to be wary of – Bermuda, love, isosceles. Add another one to the list: the “triangle of death,” also known as the “danger triangle.”  This particular triangle can be found on your face.

You can’t see it, but it’s there. Touch the tips of your thumbs together, then bring your pointer fingers together, forming a triangle. Now bring this triangle to your face so that the tip of the triangle is above the bridge of your nose and the bottom is resting below your upper lip. Your fingers are now outlining the danger zone – “the triangle of death.”

It sounds very dramatic, I know. The scary name comes from the fact that the blood vessels in this part of the face have a direct link to blood vessels close to the brain. There are also important structures around the eyes, nose, and mouth.  So, skin infections in this area have the potential to spread and cause dangerous complications – in reality, though, serious brain infections are incredibly rare.

There are other, more common types of infections in this area that you should take steps to avoid. Popping a pimple, picking at a scab, plucking out nose hair ….. all of these things can break the skin and lead to infections like furuncles (boils, which are infections of the hair follicles) and cellulitis (when the layers of the skin are infected.) These days, many bacterial infections are harder to treat because of antibiotic resistance, especially certain kinds of staph infections, so it’s best to try to prevent them from happening.

Here are some tips for preventing and treating skin wounds, both in the “triangle of death” and anywhere else on your body as well.

  • Moisturize your skin regularly to prevent cracking or peeling.
  • If you have a pimple, do NOT pop it, no matter how many “zit-popping” videos you watch! Even if it doesn’t cause a serious problem — it can leave scars and discoloration
  • Don’t pluck nose or ear hairs. Trim instead.
  • Wash and replace makeup products regularly.
  • Wash any cuts with soap and water daily.
  • Cover cuts with topical ointments… petroleum jelly can work for minor cuts.
  • Contact your doctor for signs of infection like redness, pain, and drainage.
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About the Author
Neha Pathak, MD

Neha Pathak, MD, is a board-certified internal medicine doctor and part of WebMD's team of medical editors responsible for ensuring the accuracy of health information on the site. Before joining WebMD, Pathak worked as a primary care physician at the Department of Veterans Affairs and was an assistant professor of medicine at Emory University in Atlanta.

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