The 'Triangle of Death' Is Where You Should Never, Ever Pop A Pimple

Seriously, though, you should keep your hands away from zits in this region.

Although rare, popping acne in the "danger triangle"—previously known as the "triangle of death"—may cause an infection of the face or head. The "danger triangle" consists of the area from the corners of your mouth to the bridge of your nose.

An infection of that area can lead to cavernous sinus thrombosis (CST), or a rare blood clot in your cavernous sinuses. A blood clot in your cavernous sinuses can delay blood flow from your brain.

Due to the risk of life-threatening infection, you may wonder if and how it's OK to pop pimples on your face. According to dermatologists, here's what you need to know about the "danger triangle" and when (if at all) you can pop pimples on your face safely.

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What Is the 'Triangle of Death'?

The "triangle of death" is an old term for what many experts now call the "danger triangle." Visualizing the region on your face may take a bit of imagination.

"The area of the face connecting the nose to the corners of the mouth is thought to be a particularly dangerous area of the face because of their close connection to the brain," Joshua Zeichner, MD, an associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, told Health.

The best way to see the triangle is to form one with your fingers—connecting the tips of your thumbs, then the tips of your pointer fingers. On your face, the top of your triangle is on the bridge of your nose. The base starts at either corner of your mouth and extends across the bottom of your upper lip.

Risks of Popping Pimples in the ‘Danger Triangle'

The phrase "danger triangle" might sound slightly extreme when talking about pimple popping. Still, practicing care near that area of your face is critical. Picking at or scratching pimples on that area is not wise since it can allow bacteria to enter and cause infection.

In general, the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) does not advise that you pop your pimples. You may push the contents of the pimple deeper into the skin, leading to complications like permanent scarring and more painful and noticeable acne.


Popping a pimple in the "danger triangle" runs the risk of a potentially life-threatening infection. As a result, CST may develop, in which a blood clot forms in your cavernous sinuses and blocks blood flow from your brain.

"The cavernous sinus is the name of a large vein that drains blood to the brain, creating a connection from our outside to our inside," said Dr. Zeichner. In other words, the infection in a pimple on your nose has a somewhat clear path to your brain. 

For that reason, "any infection in that area is a little bit higher risk," Alok Vij, MD, a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic, told Health.

"In the event that you pick a pimple, and an infection develops, the worst-case scenario is that the infection spreads from the skin through this sinus," explained Dr. Zeichner. 

CST is a dangerous disorder, but recognizing the symptoms right away minimizes the risk of death and complications. CST symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Paralysis of the muscles that control eye movements
  • Swelling around the eyes

More Noticeable and Painful Acne

Frequently touching your face increases the risk of more acne. When you pop pimples, bacteria, dead skin cells, and oil push further into your skin. As a result, more swelling and redness occur, making acne appear more noticeable and painful.


Another reason to keep your hands off the "danger triangle" is that you may cause scarring in the area, added Dr. Vij. In general, popping pimples may cause scabs to form. As the skin heals, you may notice scarring or dark spots on your face. 

Those dark spots, or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, may fade over long periods. Some dark spots take as long as 12 months to return to your natural skin color, while others may be permanent.

How Do You Treat Pimples?

Keeping your hands away from your face is essential to get rid of acne in the "danger triangle." Instead of popping pimples in that area, try practicing general self-care tips for treating acne.

Acne Medicines

You can treat your acne with over-the-counter medicines, such as:

  • Adapalene
  • Azelaic acid
  • Benzoyl peroxide
  • Glycolic acid
  • Salicylic acid
  • Sulfur

Products with those ingredients help eliminate bacteria, dry oil, or peel the top layer of your skin. By doing so, those products may cause some redness. You may avoid irritating your skin by using a pea-sized amount of product every other or third day. Ensure you use a water-based face moisturizer to prevent dryness and peeling.

Avoid Foods That Worsen Acne

Experts do not conclusively know what foods cause or worsen acne. Still, you may find that some foods, like dairy, high-fat foods, or sweet treats (aka sugar) trigger your acne. Try limiting or cutting out any foods that may cause your acne to flare.

Daily Skincare Routine

A daily skincare routine is essential to treating and preventing acne. For example, try incorporating the following into your routine:

  • Clean your face with a gentle, non-drying cleanser to remove dirt and makeup. Repeat once or twice daily and after exercise.
  • Do not use rubbing alcohol or toner on the skin. Those products can dry the skin out.
  • Keep long hair out of your face when you sleep by pulling it back.
  • Only use products that are "non-comedogenic," meaning they do not clog your pores.
  • Shampoo your hair when it's oily.

Is There a Way to Safely Pop Pimples?

Treating acne may be easier said than done. Sometimes, flattening a pimple on your chin is all too rewarding. While popping your pimples is not advised, there are a few ways to make the process less high-risk.

First, stay away from pimples in the "danger triangle" region. Anytime you reach for acne on your nose, remember the risk of infection. In contrast, consider the timing if you are determined to pop a pimple on other regions, like your chin.

"If you are going to pop your pimples, do not do it right before bed when you are tired. Think of it like a sterile surgical procedure," said Dr. Zeichner.

Before popping, thoroughly wash your hands, said Dr. Vij. Ensure the spaces underneath your fingernails are clean since bacteria are good at hiding there. Better yet, cut your nails before popping a pimple, added Dr. Zeichner. 

Next, clean the skin on your face. Apply a warm compress to your face before you begin the picking process, noted Dr. Vij.

Do not pick the top of a zit off with your nails. Instead, "apply even, downward pressure around the pimples," said Dr. Zeichner. It would help if you did this with one of two instruments: a cotton swab or the soft part of your fingertip.

Of the utmost importance is realizing when to stop: "If the blockage does not come out easily, abort the mission," noted Dr. Zeichner. Then, remember to practice after-care. "After picking, apply a topical antibiotic ointment like bacitracin to any open skin."

When To See a Healthcare Provider

At-home treatments can help get rid of and prevent acne. Still, some people may have more stubborn acne than others. 

Consult a dermatologist if you notice:

  • At-home treatments do not get rid of or prevent acne within several months
  • Cysts
  • Emotional distress or social anxiety about acne
  • Redness around pimples
  • Scars form as acne clears
  • Worsening acne

A Quick Review

Popping your pimples anywhere on your face is not advised, especially in the area on your face known as the "danger triangle." You risk an infection that could travel to your brain and bloodstream if you pop a pimple in that region. 

While popping pimples is tempting, it is not worth the risk of complications. Instead, avoid touching your face, try at-home treatments, or consult a dermatologist if your acne is not clearing up. 

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