Can a simple pimple cause death? Theoretically it can—or at least it can lead to it.
If, say, you were to pop a pimple located within the “danger triangle of the face”—which starts at the bridge of your nose and fans out toward the width of your upper lip…
…your senseless act of facial self-mutilation could possibly lead to an ultimately fatal brain infection. It’s highly unlikely, but then again, to be fair, you shouldn’t be popping your zits in the first place.
There also appears to be a possible correlation between P. acnes—the bacteria that causes facial zits—and prostate cancer. In one study, P. acnes was found in the prostate tissue of 82% of men who had prostate cancer, while it did not appear in any tissue samples from healthy men.
But sadly—at least for the purposes of this article, not for the overall state of humanity—I was unable to find any specific human deaths that were directly related to the mere presence of acne. That’s why the phrase “Acne-Related” was slyly slipped into the headline. These following cases were not directly caused by acne, although it was at the very least claimed to be a contributing factor.
So put down your tube of benzoyl peroxide and listen to me. I’m about to sing you ten sad songs.
1. Bullied for his acne as a teen to where he felt as if his face was “one giant pimple,” man becomes serial killer.
OK, sure, this is really stretching cause and effect here, but Robert “Butcher Baker” Hansen grew up tormented by tasteless teens who taunted and teased him for his severe and persistent Acne vulgaris. The experience left him permanently scarred, both facially and emotionally.
As an adult, Bob would rape, torture, and kill multiple women in rural Alaska. And yes, the relationship between pimple-bullying and serial killing is tenuous at best. But one wonders what would have become of Hansen if he’d sailed through his teen years with facial skin as smooth as a baby’s bottom.
2. After being taunted as a “zit-face,” teen allegedly murders the daughter of the man who teased him.
In 2007 near Acapulco, an unidentified 14-year-old boy allegedly murdered four-year-old Yurani Yuliec Garcia Organes, daughter of a man whom the alleged killer called a graniento—the Mexican equivalent of “zit-face.”
According to a prosecutor:
He acknowledged having taken the girl’s life out of resentment he felt toward the girl’s father…because he made fun of the problem he has with acne….He acknowledged hitting the girl twice with his hands and putting his foot on her neck until she died of asphyxiation.
The victim’s father denied teasing the boy and instead claimed he’d merely recommended a brand of acne cream to help handle his problem.
3. Teased as a “Pizza Face,” British teen overdoses on cyanide.
After having spent most of his teen years “blighted by acne“—and after enduring seemingly endless creams, medications, and surgeries—18-year-old Marc Heap of northern England began meticulously planning his suicide. He walked down to the banks of a local river and self-administered a dose of cyanide 27 times larger than was necessary to kill him. He left signs for passerby warning them not to touch his body because it was filled with poison. He had even sent police a letter telling them where they would find his body. According to a coroner, “The form of acne that Marc suffered from was very, very aggressive and I have been told that it became the torment of his life.”
4. British girl dies from fatal blood clot allegedly caused by her acne medication.
(All of the remaining cases on this list are in some way tied to acne medication, which despite its cosmetic benefits appears to be far more fatal than acne itself.)
In March 2010, Charlotte Porter from the English town of Maidstone died from a blood clot in her lungs mere moments after her friends and family observed her “joking and laughing.” An inquest allegedly confirmed the suspicions of Charlotte’s mother that an anti-acne drug with the brand name of Dianette was at least a contributing factor in her death.
5. Furious that an anti-acne drug had allegedly rendered him impotent, patient stabs his dermatologist to death.
In October 2006, blaming his erectile dysfunction on the notorious (and now discontinued) anti-acne medication Accutane that had been prescribed to him by Chicago dermatologist Jon Cornbleet, a man named Hans Peterson stabbed Cornbleet to death and then fled to the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, where he was tried and convicted of murder.
6. Florida teen grows fond of Osama bin Laden and crashes plane into building; mother blames his anti-acne medication.
On Saturday, January 5, 2002—less than four months after the Twin Towers attacks of September 11, 2001—a Tampa high-school student named Charles J. Bishop stole a small Cessna plan and crashed it into the side of a Bank America tower, killing himself. In his suicide note, Bishop praised Osama bin Laden and claimed that he was acting on behalf of Al Qaeda.
Bishop’s mother blamed his use of Accutane, claiming the anti-acne medication had sent him into a downward spiral of delusion and depression. She sued the drug’s makers for $70 million but eventually dropped the lawsuit.
7. Pennsylvania teen viciously stabs his cheerleader girlfriend to death and blames his acne medication during a murder trial.
In August 2007, during a discussion where he was allegedly trying to mend his crumbling romance with his 16-year-old cheerleader girlfriend Demi Cuccia, John Mullarkey of Monroeville, PA pulled out a 3.5-inch pocket knife and stabbed her once for each year she’d been alive. In court, Mullarkey’s defense lawyers tried arguing that their client’s use of Accutane had rendered him deranged and thus not personally responsible for the murder. In response, the prosecutor made a somewhat tacky play on the accused’s surname:
All this nonsense about Accutane—the Boogeyman—and diminished capacity, that’s a bunch of malarkey.
The jury agreed with him and convicted Mullarkey of first-degree murder.
8. Musician kills himself after taking Roaccutane, leading to a documentary called Dying for Clear Skin.
Aspiring British musician Jesse Jones told his parents that his brief use of Roaccutane—the English version of Accutane—had left him deeply and irrevocably depressed. He also said it caused severe pain in his joints, rendering him unable to play the guitar and drums. Before jumping off a cliff in 2007, he typed out an email to his parents that he never sent:
Dear Mum and Dad, Roaccutane seems to have changed the way my mind and body works in a big way. I can barely bring myself to type its name because I hate it so much….Anything to do with the opposite sex isn’t psychologically appealing. I used to have to try and stop myself from thinking about girls all of the time; now, I could hardly care less.
In response to this and many other cases where Accutane/Roaccutane were blamed for suicide, the drug’s maker Roche Pharmaceuticals countered with statistics claiming that suicide rates among people who use these products were actually lower than rates among teens in general.
The BBC documentary Dying for Clear Skin was based partially on Jones’s story:
9. Despondent over the idea that her four-month use of Roaccutane had permanently aged her, British woman steps in front of a Tube train.
Twenty-eight-year-old Angela Lee of London was diagnosed with “severe scarring acne” and was placed on Roaccutane from April to July of 2008. In October of that year, after complaining of severe depression, she stepped to her death in front of an oncoming Tube train at the Seven Kings rail station. Her mother found a suicide note in Angela’s bedroom and claims that her daughter complained of how Roaccutane had “aged her body, how she would never get better and that there was no way out.”