As a beauty editor, I pride myself on my extensive skin-care routine. Every day, I spend at least 30 minutes on my regimen, and while I'm dedicated to my laundry list of steps, I'm also 100 percent guilty of picking and popping. And I'm especially fond of squeezing the blackheads speckled across my nose. But it wasn't until recently that I found out attempting to manually draw out these bad boys in a certain zone of my face—known colloquially as the "triangle of death"—could lead to way more serious damage than a bloody spot or an unsightly scar. To be clear, the facial triangle of death is not to be confused with the geopolitical one, which was an area south of Baghdad in Iraq marred by violence in the early aughts, or even the Bermuda Triangle, which is that mysterious zone in the Atlantic Ocean where ships and planes seemed to disappear into thin air. What all three triangles do have in common is that they're similarly shaped and controversial.
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As far your skin health is concerned, the triangle of death (which is totally real, so real it's a topic taught in medical school and has its own Wikipedia entry, under "danger triangle of the face") is the area on the face from the corners of the mouth to between the eyebrows—see, there's that trusty triangle. Right smack in the center of that triangle, although under the surface of the skin, is the cavernous sinus, which houses essential nerves and blood vessels that carry blood back to the brain. If the surface skin were to be infected, the infection could spread, seep into the blood vessels, and, worst case scenario, lead to cavernous sinus thrombosis (the formation of blood clots), stroke, or death. That last part is according to Sandra Lee, a Los Angeles–based dermatologist whom you may know as Dr. Pimple Popper—we tapped her to make sure this triangle of death thing wasn't just an urban legend.
"If you ever get an infected pimple here, it has a shorter distance to get to the cavernous sinus," she says. "If the inflammation from a zit spread, there's the potential for blindness or stroke," explains Lee. If after reading those words, you were more than a little taken aback, Lee says the triangle of death isn't as scary as it sounds. "In this day and age, with antibiotics, we won't really let [an infection] get to that level," says the dermatologist. "Obviously if a pimple gets big enough and ends up causing problems, you should see a dermatologist or a doctor about it right away. And it's easy to treat a lot of these infections with [oral] antibiotics." Washington, D.C., dermatologist Rebecca Kazin agrees on the rareness of fatality from the triangle. "This possibility is extremely remote, and I have never seen anything close to this occurring over the past decade of practice," Kazin tells Allure.
Bottom line: While the triangle of death has a terrifying moniker and some very real theoretical science behind it, avoiding serious infections is totally doable by adhering to a single rule: Don't pick or prod anything that's inflamed or healing. Not even if you promise yourself you'll use a light touch, and not even if you wash your hands first. (Trust me, I'm taking this advice to heart, too.) As you likely know, every time you try to tackle a blemish on your own, you're doing more harm than good, as the pressing and popping can spread bacteria on your face, which can cause additional breakouts and even lead to permanent scarring. Instead, try a topical treatment—our favorites are right here—to zap bacteria and quell redness. Then allow the pimple to heal all by its lonesome.
But if you do end up popping and picking in no-no zone (hey, you're human, after all), make sure you treat it properly post-extraction. Our best tip? Dab the just-popped region with witch hazel to disinfect and follow it up with a small glop of an antibiotic salve, like Neosporin, which will fight the bacteria while it works to shrink the spot. That way, your triangle of death could be better known as the triangle of really clear, glow-y skin. Has a nice ring to it, right?
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