When one young Texan woman found an inflamed pimple near her eyebrow, she thought that popping it would be the best way to get rid of the unsightly spot. But after she squeezed the zit, it just got bigger – then became agonizingly painful. And it wasn’t long after that she realized how serious her condition actually was.
Katie Wright comes from the city of Austin in Texas, and in 2017 she was just an average 21-year-old. Just like most young women, for instance, she took great pride in her appearance. In fact, Wright was skillful at applying makeup and regularly shared glamorous selfies on her Instagram page.
So when Wright discovered a pimple close to her eyebrow she was mildly concerned. The under-the-skin swelling was painful, but she knew better than to pick away at it. So she left things alone for a couple of days to let the zit run its course. If she kept away from the spot, she thought, it would probably disappear on its own.
However, as the days passed, the pimple simply got bigger and more obvious on Wright’s face. As a result, she decided that she would have to take the matter in hand. So one evening after steaming her face in the shower, she attempted to pop the problem zit.
But all of Wright’s efforts just seemed to anger the blemish. “My head just got hotter and hotter and started swelling up,” she told NBC’s Today program in August 2017. “It was unimaginable pain. I thought maybe I irritated my skin too much or pushed too hard.”
Wright’s discomfort did not subside. In fact, it only intensified. So she took some anti-inflammatory pain relief pills and placed an icepack on the area. Then she went to her bed and hoped that both the pain and the blemish would have magically disappeared by the time she woke up the next morning.
But after a disturbed night’s sleep, Wright groggily awoke the following day to find the situation on her forehead had got much, much worse. Indeed, the zit had swollen to be so large that it distorted her whole face. And to add to the worry, the blemish site had started oozing.
“The pressure and heat was unbearable,” Wright told the Huffington Post in September 2017. “Imagine a hot coal trying to burst out of your skin. That’s what it felt like.” Unable to open her eye properly, then, Wright knew that it was time to visit the emergency room.
When she arrived at St. David’s Medical Center in downtown Austin, doctors took one look at Wright’s face and gave her a terrifying diagnosis. Yes, what she had assumed was simply a zit was actually cellulitis. The condition, spread by staphylococcus or streptococcus bacteria, is a serious infection that targets deep skin layers and the tissue underneath.
The infection can have grave consequences if left untreated. Indeed, cellulitis can spread quickly throughout the body and can provoke organ failure and sometimes lead to death. Most of the time, though, doctors can treat the infection with an antibiotic prescription. But in extreme cases the sufferer must be admitted to hospital.
The diagnosis shocked Wright. “I was unaware of how serious it was,” she told Today. And to make matters worse, there was a very real chance the facial infection could spread locally. This could cause the loss of the young woman’s vision, and she even faced the prospect of brain damage.
“Once the infection crosses from skin into the bloodstream, or along tissue layers that reach deep, it can get into the eye socket, brain, sinuses, joints or bones,” Dr. Jessica Krant, a dermatology expert at the State University of New York, told the Huffington Post. “In these areas, infections can be hard to treat and cause a lot of damage.”
But luckily for Wright, doctors had caught the infection just in time. They therefore placed the woman on strong intravenous antibiotics for a three-day hospital stay and observed her for the rest of the week once she was home. Eventually, Wright’s cellulitis swelling went down. And after three weeks, all signs of the beleaguered woman’s “blemish” had completely disappeared.
However, following her brush with the condition, Wright was keen to spread the word about cellulitis. So how might one contract it? Well, popping pimples, picking at skin and scratching insect bites can all cause the infection. However, Wright believes she caught it from using an unclean eyebrow-shaping tool known as a spoolie.
“Where I made my mistake… I separate my brushes from my product to wash them. I threw my eyebrow pencil with my products instead of taking the spoolie with it to clean,” she explained to Today. “I never thought I could get staph [staphylococcus] on my face. ‘You don’t do your eyebrows and think, ‘Hey, this might make me go blind and give me brain damage.’”
Keen to spread the word, Wright took to social media to warn others to be mindful of cellulitis. “I’m super strict on washing my face/beauty blender/brushes. But I never thought to disinfect my eyebrow spoolie,” she said on Twitter. “If you wear makeup, PLEASE make that a step in your cleansing routine!”
It didn’t take long for people to pick up on Wright’s scary story, either. In fact, Wright became known as “staph girl.” However, the unflattering name doesn’t bother her – as long as people heed her advice. Indeed, Wright retweeted some of her subsequent coverage with the accompanying text, “When you go viral for being ugly.”
And many dermatologists echoed Wright’s warnings. “It is very easy to get an infection,” skin expert Dr. Adam Friedman of London’s Harley Street warned in an interview with Today. “We have over 500 species of bacteria of the skin. When you break the skin, you are putting all the bacteria in the skin.”
And Dr. Friedman added that picking spots is one of the worst things a person can do – even if it doesn’t lead to cellulitis. “Hands down, you will certainly get scars if you pick at your acne,” he said. “If you are going to do it, do it with clean hands. You are creating a wound.”
“Popping a pimple is always a risk. Always,” Dr. Krant added when quizzed by the Huffington Post. “If a pimple has a small soft white tip and you can gently break it, that may be okay. But squeezing any deeper pimple anywhere on the face or neck is honestly asking for trouble.” So to stay safe, always wash your makeup brushes and never take your life in your hands by popping your zits.