The Triangle of Death: Can popping pimples actually kill you?

When I was a teenager, my mom warned me to never aggravate or pop a pimple if it's on my nose. She told me that the daughter of a friend of a friend (not a typo) was prohibited by a doctor to never get "the triangle of death” on her face infected if she didn't want to die. To me, it sounded a lot like an urban legend: it evoked images of the Bermuda triangle in my head, and the third-degree anecdotal “proof” seemed pretty dubious. Still, being an obedient daughter, I did avoid picking at pimples whenever they grew in this so-called “danger area” because it seemed better to be safe than sorry.

Don't touch the danger zone!

Don't touch the danger zone!

Fast forward to my first pregnancy, when a wart suddenly showed up on my right nostril! I sought help from a dermatologist, who refused to do anything about it. She advised me to wait until after I had given birth and finished breastfeeding, before considering cautery. Again, I was warned that the “danger area” on my face could prove fatal to my baby and me. I followed her advice, and went back to a different dermatologist about a year after my daughter was born. She laughed when I told her about my previous derma’s precautions, and told me that I could have had my wart removed safely, with extremely little risk - even when I was pregnant. She cauterized my wart in what seemed like 30 seconds, and in a week my nose was back to normal.

So what’s the deal? Is there really a “triangle of death” on my face, or is it something made up just to prevent people from picking their noses?

Dr. Oz outlines the "triangle of death." Not sure if he's an illuminati. Image via CNBC.com

Dr. Oz outlines the "triangle of death." Not sure if he's an illuminati. Image via CNBC.com

The "triangle" is made by your nose, the space above your lips, and the nasolabial folds or your laugh lines. Apart from my first derma, some celebrity doctors also believe in this danger area. Dr. Oz (of the Oprah fame) warns against picking at anything in the triangle of death, even when using tweezers. Dermatologist Sandra Lee (better known as Dr. Pimple Popper) also says that if a wound in this area gets infected (such as when you pop pimples or pick out blackheads), it can lead to blindness or stroke. She does clarify that the risk is very small and that a simple antibiotic treatment can prevent those scary outcomes. Still, the possibility does exist.

It's easy to dismiss these claims as clickbait fodder but as it turns out, medical professionals have linked this sensitive area of the face to serious health risks centuries ago. A study called “Infections of the Dangerous Areas of the Face” referenced literature from as far back as 1852, and cites TWENTY fatal cases (yes, people really did used to DIE from this!). Most were men who cut themselves while shaving, and some formed boils on their noses. Left untreated, these wounds got infected. It may not sound so bad but actually getting an infection in this area can result in serious, permanent damage because the veins here connect directly to the ones in the brain. Yikes!

Sanitize tools (that are exclusively for your face) with alcohol before and after using them!

Sanitize tools (that are exclusively for your face) with alcohol before and after using them!

So it seems that Mom truly knows best and there is some kernel of truth in this crazy story. That said, you need not panic if even you literally just popped an ugly pimple before reading this. Medicine has come a long way since the 1800s and unless you've been abusing usage of antibiotics, applying something like Bactroban, Terramycin, or Fucidin will prevent wounds from getting infected. 

That the triangle of death was "real" (at least way back then) has me #shookt but I’m not gonna lie; it’ll be tough for me to leave my comedones alone. I definitely will be even more cautious about popping pimples though, regardless of where it is on my face, and reviewing how to properly treat a breakout from start to finish. I’ve always treated them as they are: open wounds to be treated, disinfected, and protected. All of us at PV love the CosRX Acne Pimple Master Patch for this: aside from protecting the wound from infection, it also draws out all the gunk in the pore and decreases inflammation in no time!

Were you ever warned about this danger area on your face? Do you actually follow it, or are you like me and have a hard time not picking at pimples? Please share your best tips for dealing with breakouts in the triangle of death!

Sources: NCBI, Allure, CNBC