Can a pimple kill you?
Theoretically, yes. You can also cross the street.
Of course, in more than 30 years as a family doctor I have never seen this happen. I hate to admit it, but I have popped my own pimples on occasion and have lived to tell the tale. I’ve even walked recklessly once or twice.
How can a pimple kill you? Most people pop pimples by squeezing them, which has the potential to push germs into the bloodstream. The blood circulation of the face mixes with the circulation of the brain. In theory, this could cause a brain infection, something that is not good and is potentially fatal.
Although I’ve never seen a brain infection occur this way, I don’t recommend popping pimples. However, if you could get a young person to follow good health advice, I suggest that they avoid the things that do killing lots of people (including teenagers), things like alcohol, drugs, sex, smoking, gambling, and overeating.
Are there other dangers of popping pimples? Here are 5 concerns. The first 4 are quite common, the last less.
1. Prolonged healing. I know it feels like I just popped the offending pimple, it would go away. You probably know from personal experience that this is not the case, at least not for pimples without a large white pimple. Squeezing a pimple will undoubtedly prolong the healing. Your body not only has to heal the pimple, it also has to heal the damage it did to your skin by squeezing so hard. Sometimes pricking a mature white pimple with a sterile needle will allow the “pus” to drain; doctors sometimes do this. If you have a lot of pimples on your face, ask your doctor if it is ever wise to have your own surgery.
2. Scars. The body has several built-in healing processes. The primary process causes very little scarring and is the body’s way of normally healing itself. When the body has to work harder to heal an injury, it inscribes secondary processes that produce more scar tissue. Scar tissue is different from normal skin, with different pigmentation, elasticity, and circulation. Acne scars can persist for life, so resist the urge to pop your pimples.
3. Local infection. Although acne itself is not considered a skin infection, if a pimple breaks open, other germs can get in and cause a real infection. These are usually germs that happily live on the surface of the skin without causing any problems. However, once the skin is open, they can invade and cause a true infection. Staph and strep germs are the most common culprits. If you squeeze a pimple and develop an inflamed, red, and tender area, you should see your doctor; you may need an antibiotic.
4. Convert a small grain to a large one. As mentioned above, pimples (pimples, pustules) are not caused by an infection, per se. On the contrary, certain germs that live in the hair follicles cause a problem by producing an acid that irritates the skin. Your body tries to fight this acid by making a pimple. When you squeeze a pimple, you can actually force the acid deeper into your skin, triggering an even bigger pimple.
5. Self-inoculation with herpes. If you have a cold sore on your lip and a pimple breaks out, you can transfer the herpes germ from your cold sore to the acne area. Then you could end up with cold sores at the pimple site, something you definitely want to avoid. It is not a good idea to pop a pimple at any time, but especially when you have a cold sore.
Copyright 2010 Cynthia J. Koelker, MD