In the age of Dr. Pimple Popper, the previously repulsive act of pimple-popping has become an almost euphoric experience. Watching videos of enlarged cysts, deep-rooted blackheads, and even inflamed whiteheads getting slowly extracted has become an oddly satisfying pastime, which, admittedly, Allure editors take part in. But watching said stomach-churning clips is one thing, acting on them is another — because, in case you forgot, we don't actually condone popping — of any kind. Sadly, Katie Wright found out why the hard way.
According to Pedestrian TV, Wright began squeezing what she believed to be an inflamed zit, but the situation quickly started going south. "A week ago I decided to pick at what I thought was a giant under the skin pimple because it had been hurting for a while and got too painful to ignore," she wrote on Twitter. "Within an hour my entire face swelled up and HURT. It felt like something was going to burst out of my skin."
Turns out, Wright's pimple wasn't actually a pimple at all — it was a serious infection possibly brought on by a dirty eyebrow pencil brush. "I went to the emergency room and they said it was a very serious case of Cellulitis, which is a version of a Staph infection, but instead of having a head like Staph, it effects the deep cellular tissues with no main source to attack," she said. "Since it was on my face, there was a huge risk of it spreading to my brain or my eyes causing me to go blind. Serious shit."
The area Wright is referring to is the elusive "triangle of death" (which is totally real, so real it's a topic taught in medical school and there's a Wikipedia entry under "danger triangle of the face"), a zone from the corners of the mouth to between the eyebrows.
Right smack in the center of that triangle, under the skin, is the cavernous sinus, which houses essential nerves and blood vessels that carry blood back to the brain. According to Sandra Lee, a Los Angeles–based dermatologist, who you may know as Dr. Pimple Popper, 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. (See, it's not just an urban legend!)
"If you ever get an infected pimple here it has a shorter distance to get to the cavernous sinus," Lee says. "If the inflammation from a zit spreads, there's the potential for blindness or stroke," she explains. But with a little medication the infection can easily be cleared. "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."
Bottom line: If you've got a lump, bump, or zit, clean the inflamed area with a gentle cleanser (like Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser Face and Body), top it with a spot treatment, and — most importantly — don't touch it. Seriously, leave it alone.