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

By Maggie O'Neill
October 06, 2020
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You’ve been told over and over and over again to avoid popping your pimples, no matter how tempting they might look. That advice goes for your entire face, of course, but doctors say that there’s a particularly dangerous area on your face—colloquially referred to as the “triangle of death”—that you should definitely keep your hands off of.

Here's what you need to know about what the "triangle of death" is, why you should avoid popping pimples in it, and how (if at all) you can pop pimples on your face safely, according to dermatologists.

What is the 'triangle of death'?

It takes a bit of imagination to identify the "triangle of death" on your face, but it's there: “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, a dermatologist at Mount Sinai in New York, tells Health.

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

Why is it dangerous to pop pimples in the 'triangle of death'?

The phrase “triangle of death” might sound a bit extreme when we’re talking about pimple popping, but you definitely shouldn’t take the threat lightly.

“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,” Dr. Zeichner says. In other words, the infection in a pimple on your nose has a somewhat clear path to your brain. For this reason, “any infection in that area is a little bit higher risk,” Alok Vij, MD, a dermatologist at Cleveland Clinic, tells 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 [and] has the potential to infect the brain and even spread through the bloodstream to the entire body,” Dr. Zeichner says.

Therefore, picking at or scratching pimples on that area isn’t wise, nor is pulling out your nose hairs in an unsafe way, since any of these actions can allow bacteria to enter that risky area of the face. Another reason to keep your hands off that particular region is because it’s more likely to scar, Dr. Vij says.

Is there a way to safely pop pimples?

Dermatologists figured out long ago that their plea to keep your hands away from your face will sometimes go in one ear and out the other. Sometimes, flattening a juicy pimple on your chin is all too rewarding. That said, while popping your zits still isn’t recommended, there are a few ways to make the operation less high-risk.

First of all, if it hasn’t been made abundantly clear yet, just stay away from pimples in the triangle of death region. Anytime you reach for a big zit on your nose, remember the words “potential brain infection.” But if you’re absolutely determined to pop a zit that’s, for instance, on your chin, consider your timing. “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,” Dr. Zeichner says.

In other words, this operation needs your full attention. Before you do the actual popping, thoroughly wash your hands, Dr. Vij recommends. He adds that you should make sure the spaces underneath your fingernails are clean, since bacteria are good at hiding there. Better yet, Dr. Zeichner recommends cutting your nails before you decide to take down a zit. Next, you should clean the skin of your face, and Dr. Vij recommends applying some warm compresses to it before you begin the picking process. You shouldn’t pick the top of the zit off with your nails, Dr. Zeichner says. Instead, “apply even, downward pressure around the pimples,” he advises. You should do 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,” Dr. Zeichner says, adding that after-care is another crucial part of any successful pimple-popping quest. “After picking, apply a topical antibiotic ointment like bacitracin to any open skin,” he says.

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