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Safe skincare: What is the ‘triangle of death,’ and is it really dangerous?

What you need to know about the area of your face in which you should absolutely never pop a pimple.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Nov 10, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Jessica Mefford, NP
Triangle of Death
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Nov 10, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Jessica Mefford, NP
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

In this article

What is the ‘triangle of death’?
More

Everyone knows you shouldn’t pop pimples no matter where they are—and if you didn’t know that before, you do now. There is a certain area where you should never ever pick at; it’s called the ‘danger triangle’ or ‘triangle of death’.

Nope, we’re not talking about the Bermuda Triangle, though you may want to stay away from there, too. The triangle we’re referring to is on your face, and it may be one of the areas where you are tempted to pop a pimple.

So, precisely what is the ‘triangle of death’, and is it really that dangerous? And, more importantly, how can you treat acne that appears in this zone? Here, our dermatology experts will provide answers to all of these questions and more.

What is the ‘triangle of death’?

The ‘danger triangle’ typically refers to the central area of your face from the corners of your mouth to the bridge of your nose.¹ 

This ‘danger triangle’ gets its rather ominous name due to its anatomical connection to the brain. If this area becomes infected there is an increased risk (although rare), that the infection can travel via the cavernous sinus.²

The cavernous sinus is a series of chambers behind the face that house several blood vessels. If this area becomes infected there may be potentially life-threatening implications.³ 

One of the most severe conditions that could result from an infection in the ‘danger triangle’ is Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis (CST). CST is a rare blood clot in your cavernous sinuses, which can impact blood flow and cause serious complications. While it was once considered almost certainly fatal, with modern medicine, early detection and comprehensive treatment the mortality rates have decreased significantly.⁴

Even with modern treatments, CST survivors often suffer from long term complications which may include vision loss and increased risk of future stroke.⁵ 

Don’t pop that pimple!

While popping a pimple anywhere on your face is not recommended, picking at one located in the ‘danger triangle’ may carry more risk. When you squeeze or pick a pimple, there is a chance of developing an infection. When an infection develops in the ‘danger triangle’ it may lead to more serious complications, such as CST.⁶ Although CST is rare, it’s still important to take measures to keep your skin healthy and infection-free! 

Even without an infection, picking can still cause irritation and inflammation. Popping pimples may lead to skin discoloration or leave a permanent scar, affecting your skin’s tone and texture.

Picking is not worth the risk when there are other ways to safely and effectively treat acne. If you’re experiencing a severe breakout or have any concerns, consult a licensed dermatology provider for proper treatment.

Acne treatment and prevention

There’s no denying that facial acne can be a frustrating and persistent issue. Fortunately, there are several effective treatments that can help.

Hydrocolloid bandages

Hydrocolloid bandages can be a great way to spot-treat blemishes. Also known as pimple patches, they can help draw out excess oil and fluid while concealing the blemish. They may be especially effective when used overnight! 

Topical treatments

One size does not fit all in skincare. A dermatology provider can help you determine the most appropriate option for your needs. Here are a few popular topical solutions for acne:

Salicylic acid: Salicylic acid can be a generally safe and effective topical solution for acne. Salicylic acid has been shown to clear clogged pores, reduce post-acne redness, and minimize the appearance of dark spots.⁷

This gentle yet effective exfoliant can be found in low over the counter concentrations as well as higher prescription strengths.

Tretinoin: A prescription-only form of vitamin A, tretinoin helps boost cell turnover, promotes collagen production, and aids in clearing acne while combating signs of aging. It’s generally well-tolerated, in lower concentrations, though stronger doses can cause some irritation.⁸ 

Regular skincare practices: A comprehensive three-step routine

Maintaining a consistent skincare regimen is important to help combat acne. You can minimize blemishes by following a simple morning and evening three-step routine.

Morning routine

  1. Cleanse. Begin your day by using a mild, non-comedogenic cleanser (like

     Curology’s Cleanser, which is generally safe for all skin types).

  2. Moisturize. Apply moisturizer if needed; try Curology’s Gel Moisturizer for a lightweight boost of hydration.

  3. Protect. Sunscreen* is one of the best ways to protect your skin from the damaging effects of UV rays. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and apply it liberally to all exposed areas 15 minutes before going out and reapply as needed.

Evening routine

  1. Cleanse. Use a gentle cleanser to remove the day’s dirt, oil, and sunscreen. If you’re wearing makeup, you can use micellar water first before using a cleanser.

  2. Treat. Apply topical treatments as directed by your dermatology provider.

  3. Moisturize. Hydrate your skin with a moisturizer

Lifestyle choices: The framework for healthy skin

While genetics and environment play a big role in your skin’s health, there are several lifestyle choices you can make to tip the scales in your favor.

Diet: Processed foods, dairy, and refined sugars may contribute to increasing breakouts. Some studies have shown that certain diets may help reduce the frequency and severity of breakouts.⁹ 

Stress: It has been shown that an increase in acne severity may be linked with stress levels.¹⁰ Regular exercise, taking time for activities you enjoy, or even practicing guided meditation can help keep stress in check.

Sleep quality: Research shows that poor sleep quality may potentially contribute to acne. However, more research is needed to fully understand this relationship. However, we do know that poor sleep may also be linked to other health concerns, so don’t skimp on your beauty sleep!¹¹

When to seek medical advice

While many skin issues can be managed at home with the right care and products, there are times when seeking professional advice becomes necessary.

The ‘triangle of death’ may increase the risk of rare but serious complications.To help protect against such serious problems, it is advised not to attempt to pop any pimples in this area—or anywhere else. Instead, use safe and effective topical treatments and preventative measures, such as a consistent skincare routine and lifestyle changes.

If you are concerned about possible skin infection (or more serious complications) make sure you consult a medical provider right away for proper diagnosis and treatment. 

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If you have acne, rosacea, or anti-aging concerns and want to take the guesswork out of skincare, Curology is here to help. Sign up today** to be matched with one of our licensed dermatology providers, who can answer your questions and set you on the path to a personalized skincare solution tailored to your individual concerns.

FAQs

How do you clean the ‘triangle of death’?

The same way you would clean the rest of your face. But in doing so, make sure you’re using non-comedogenic products that are appropriate for your skin type to reduce breakouts and risk of irritation.

What do I do if a pimple pops?

When a pimple pops, keeping the affected area clean and dry. Avoid picking or squeezing the popped breakout to let your skin heal naturally.

If you notice any signs of potential infection like redness, increased pain, pus, or inflammation surrounding the blemish, contact a healthcare professional immediately.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework, so you don’t have to:

  1. Varshney, S., et al. Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis of Nasal Origin in Children. Indian J Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. (March 2015).

  2. Varshney, S., et al. Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis of Nasal Origin in Children. Indian J Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. Ibid.

  3. Varshney, S., et al. Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis of Nasal Origin in Children. Indian J Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. Ibid.

  4. Ali, S. Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis: Efficiently Recognizing and Treating a Life-Threatening Condition. Cureus. (2021, August 20).

  5. Ali, S. Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis: Efficiently Recognizing and Treating a Life-Threatening Condition. Cureus. Ibid.

  6. Pannu, A.K., et al. Danger Triangle of Face and Septic Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis. J Emerg Med. (July 2017).

  7. Arif, T. Salicylic acid as a peeling agent: a comprehensive review. Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology. (2015, August 26).

  8. Mukherjee, S., et al. Retinoids in the treatment of skin aging: an overview of clinical efficacy and safety. Clinical Interventions in Aging. (December 2006). 

  9. Baldwin, H. and Tan, J. Effects of Diet on Acne and Its Response to Treatment. American Journal of Clinical Dermatology. (2020, August 3).

  10. Chen, Y. and Lyga, J. Brain-Skin Connection: Stress, Inflammation and Skin Aging. Inflammation & Allergy Drug Targets. (June 2014). 

  11. Schrom, K.P., et al. Acne Severity and Sleep Quality in Adults. Clocks & Sleep. (2019, December 6). 

Jessica Lee is a certified Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She received her Master in Nursing from Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, CA.

**Subject to consultation. Subscription required. Results may vary. 

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our thoughts on sun protection: *Sunscreen is only one part of UV protection—cute sun hats and shades are also recommended.
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Curology Team

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Jessica Mefford, NP

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