You have mites on your face

As you sit there reading this, thousands of mites are living on your face, burrowed into the follicles of your facial hair and the pores around your eyes, nose, and mouth. As the NPR article below shows (click on second screenshot), every human is colonized by “eyelash mites”, members of the subphylum Chelicerata—yes, relatives of spiders and scorpions—in the species Demodex folliculorum. Here’s what they look like:

Read more about them here, watch the video below, or do both (they give different information):

They pretty much rest head down within the pores from which hairs arise (several mites per pore), coming out at night to mate and eat the grease that your face exudes. Gross, eh?

But you don’t notice them, as they’re innocuous and rarely cause problems. Occasionally they will get out of control, usually when your immune system is suppressed for some reason. This causes a white sheen called “Demodex frost”, which looks like this (it’s a particularly bad case). But it can be treated.

I find it interesting that this species, which is limited to Homo sapiens, is with us all of our lives, and does us no harm. I bet more than 95% of people don’t even know they have them. You’re not born with them; you acquire them from contact with others (most likely the mother) after you’ve exited the womb. And the good news is that they have no anus, so they don’t defecate on you. (They store their wastes for the duration of their short lives.)

Here’s a cool NPR video giving you more information about them. As expected, their low mobility means that they’ve become genetically differentiated among human populations, so you can tell where a mite came from by sequencing its DNA. It would be interesting to compare a phylogeny of human groups with that of their eyelash mites. If there is any “cross-group” movement, the phylogenies wouldn’t coincide.

Watch this, because these are on YOU!

62 Comments

  1. ploubere
    Posted May 22, 2019 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Yes, I’m a regular ecosystem.
    Word of advice, don’t bring up this topic on a first date.

    • David Coxill
      Posted May 22, 2019 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

      I remember hearing about a book years ago .
      It was called The life that lives on man .
      I was /am too frit to buy a copy .

  2. rickflick
    Posted May 22, 2019 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    The video claims they might have some beneficial effects. I can’t imagine what they might be, unless they defend their turf against even creepier critters that might do harm. I’m going to go wash my face right now.

    • darrelle
      Posted May 22, 2019 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      “I can’t imagine what they might mite be, . . .”

      • rickflick
        Posted May 22, 2019 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for the correction darrelle. I can always count on WEIT’s phalanx of loyal readers to spot a grievous typo. 😎

        • darrelle
          Posted May 23, 2019 at 7:22 am | Permalink

          lol

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted May 23, 2019 at 6:25 am | Permalink

      I like the idea of some kind of miniature version of the Twilight series happening on our faces, like the vampire vs werewolves war. Presumably there’s one very boring but bafflingly attractive female mite who the leaders of both sides fall in love with, and moon over.

  3. Debbie Coplan
    Posted May 22, 2019 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    I’m probably going to have insomnia tonight.

    • rickflick
      Posted May 22, 2019 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      I mite too.

    • Posted May 22, 2019 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      I could have lived my whole life knowing about this. (Actually, I *knew* about their existence, but was never formally introduced to one.)

  4. Randall Schenck
    Posted May 22, 2019 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    This would not be so bad if I wasn’t eating.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 23, 2019 at 2:44 am | Permalink

      Hey, those little critters are only living on your eyelashes.

      I have no idea what fauna are living in your mouth but I would be willing to bet there are hundreds of species of little greeblies coexisting with you…

      cr

  5. Mark R.
    Posted May 22, 2019 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    I read this, took a shower, and washed my eyelashes vigorously. Don’t think I’ve ever done that, and I’m sure it didn’t do a lick of good.

    While in the shower, I was thinking, someone could make some serious coin if they invented anti-mite mascara. Employ a good gross-out marketing campaign and you’d have men wearing mascara. The Goths would LOVE it.

    • Jonathan Wallace
      Posted May 22, 2019 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      But if the mites don’t cause any problem other than in exceptional circumstances and furthermore 95% of the population are not even aware of their existence it might not be that easy to market this product?

      • Saul Sorrell-Till
        Posted May 22, 2019 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

        They invented the career-threatening disease of halitosis and they dreamt up Father’s/Mother’s/Valentine’s day, I’ll bet the best and brightest in the world of once-nonexistent-now-necessary products could turn this into a billion dollar industry in no time.

        • Posted May 22, 2019 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

          +1

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted May 23, 2019 at 2:41 am | Permalink

          One word: Vitamin supplements.

          Okay, that’s two.

          cr

          • ThyroidPlanet
            Posted May 23, 2019 at 5:41 am | Permalink

            The mites must get their vitamins from something – bacteria they eat along with sebum must make some of them… not sure about the rest…

      • Steve Pollard
        Posted May 22, 2019 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

        And who knows what good they (mite) do? We all know (or should know) how important, and literally vital, our population of gut flora is, and the damage that can result if it is compromised. Suppose you were to wipe out all your skin mites: how would you know that you weren’t laying yourself open to all sorts of hostile invaders?

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted May 23, 2019 at 5:42 am | Permalink

        Cute mascots. Works every time.

  6. Saul Sorrell-Till
    Posted May 22, 2019 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    They discuss this on QI. Stephen Fry reassures the panelists that the mites have no anus, but later he reveals the sting in the tale, which is that when the mites die they just lie there and rot on your face, presumably releasing all the built-up bum-waste that they’ve accumulated after a life spent waddling around your face in permanent, tormented constipation.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 23, 2019 at 2:45 am | Permalink

      Well, obviously. That’s the first thing that occurred to me when I read that in PCC’s post.

      Shit happens, and it never un-happens. 🙂

      cr

    • Posted May 23, 2019 at 6:01 am | Permalink

      * puts down sandwich I was having for lunch *

      • Saul Sorrell-Till
        Posted May 23, 2019 at 9:05 am | Permalink

        Just be grateful I didn’t go into the things that live in the average sandwich. Bacteria the size of marbles, coughing and sneezing everywhere they go, and having weird sex on the lettuce.

        • rickflick
          Posted May 23, 2019 at 11:05 am | Permalink

          Don’t forget the bird poop on the celery.

    • Posted May 23, 2019 at 7:03 am | Permalink

      But your skin is constantly flaking off as new growth occurs underneath. Wouldn’t the dead mites just flake off along for the ride?

  7. Saul Sorrell-Till
    Posted May 22, 2019 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Meet the mites / meet the mites / come – on – out – and – GREET – the – mites

  8. John Conoboy
    Posted May 22, 2019 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Many years ago my mother gave me a copy of the book Life On Man by Theodor Rosebury. It is quite dated today, but probably still worth a read. We have a lot of fellow travelers on and in our bodies. As Mr. Spock would say, “fascinating.”

    • David Coxill
      Posted May 22, 2019 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      Damn and blast ,didn’t see your comment ,i posted a reply to someone mentioning said book.

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted May 22, 2019 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

      A bit of blatant puffery:

      A few weeks ago I highly recommended a book by a friend, Catherine Whitlock: ’10 Women who changed Science, and the World’. It’s good science, good history and a good read.

      On topic, I can also recommend ‘Meet Your Bacteria’, which is an entertaining account of the varied life that lives on and within us. Catherine is an immunologist turned author, and has a string of textbooks to her name. She has now turned towards a more general readership. I am a great admirer of her writing.

      Plug over.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 23, 2019 at 2:53 am | Permalink

      I have a copy of a book ‘The Secret House’ by David Bodanis. Which does the same for our habitations. Who needs a zoo, just check your carpet. Or your dishes. 😎

      cr

  9. Silvia Planchett
    Posted May 22, 2019 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    Just another reason for you to keep this narrative going!

  10. merilee
    Posted May 22, 2019 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Thanks awfully😖

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 23, 2019 at 3:01 am | Permalink

      So now you know 😎

      “I bet more than 95% of people don’t even know they have them.”

      Wouldn’t that be more like 99.95%? Or maybe, as of this month, just 99.9%.

      I wonder what other fascinating lifeforms I share my skin with. Probably thousands. I think, on the whole, I’d rather not know. We have an arrangement – they don’t bother me so I don’t bother them. 😉

      cr

  11. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted May 22, 2019 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Well THAT might explain a few things….

    I wonder about the viral/ microbial biome of which the notes are only a part – or how the mites react to allergens, salt water, etc.

  12. Posted May 22, 2019 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    They store their wastes internally for their entire lives? So where do they die? On my face, right? It doesn’t help much, unless some other creature eats them whole and leaves my face before dying or defecating.

    • David Coxill
      Posted May 22, 2019 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      ” And the good news is that they have no anus, so they don’t defecate on you. (They store their wastes for the duration of their short lives.)”

      So like the POTUS they are full of you know what .

  13. davidintoronto
    Posted May 22, 2019 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Anyone remember getting “butterfly kisses” from Mom? So much for that warm, childhood memory.

    😉

  14. yazikus
    Posted May 22, 2019 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    I read I Contain Multitudes (Ed Yong) earlier this year and can’t remember if this was mentioned specifically, but it certainly fits right in!
    Am I odd to find them a little bit cute?

    • merilee
      Posted May 22, 2019 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

      I recently found my copy of

      I contain multitudes buried in a pile. Will get to it soon. And yes I think you’re weird to find the mites cute, but mite forgive you🙀

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted May 23, 2019 at 5:39 am | Permalink

      They must have bacteria, yeasts or viruses of their own. What if the cure for the common cold has been sitting under our noses the whole time?

  15. Posted May 22, 2019 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always been fond of all my little bacteria friends, and now I have mites too. Happy days! We’re never truly alone, eh?

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 23, 2019 at 3:05 am | Permalink

      I see the food supplement con artists have glommed onto bacteria now. TV ads pushing ‘pro-biotic bacteria’ to ‘restore a healthy balance’ or whatnot.

      On the whole, I have far kinder feelings towards bacteria than I do towards marketroids.

      cr

      • Posted May 23, 2019 at 6:14 am | Permalink

        I’ve no interest in that sort of nonsense, thankfully! I might be a bit weird but the fact that there are bacteria swimming in my eye liquid is something I quite like. Little cuties! Most people, I imagine, would find it quite disturbing.

  16. Terry L Pedersen
    Posted May 22, 2019 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    Couldn’t resist a teaser headline, eh? I
    thought they ate dead skin on our bodies, kind of a clean-up crew.

  17. Michael Hart
    Posted May 22, 2019 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    It would be fun to know whether the phylogeny of the mites includes old mite lineages that were picked up from Neanderthals or from Denisovans. There must be work like this on other horizontal transfer of other human symbionts from ancient human lineages to ours – maybe another commenter knows?

  18. Christopher
    Posted May 22, 2019 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    I admit no feelings of ill will or even slight disgust with my fellow travelers. I find the humans they live on to be far more revolting. In fact, I’ve long thought it passé to refer to myself in the singular. We don’t mind at all that we share face space with some little mites. They’re not great conversationalists but at least we’re never alone.

  19. Charles Sawicki
    Posted May 22, 2019 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    Given the apparent relation between lack of worms and increased allergy problems, it’s probably best to let the cute little mites live. If someone finds a way to kill them it will be interesting to see if negative consequences ensue.

  20. Steve Gerrard
    Posted May 22, 2019 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    We really don’t have free will, do we?

    “I don’t want mites on my face.”

    “You have no free will. The mites stay.”

    “Fine. Whatever.”

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted May 23, 2019 at 5:44 am | Permalink

      There’s a knock down argument for you!

  21. Pierluigi Ballabeni
    Posted May 23, 2019 at 1:58 am | Permalink

    Don’t say too loud that you wash your face. You might be attacked by some animnal rights activist.

    • Dominic
      Posted May 23, 2019 at 4:56 am | Permalink

      Mites rights! I’d march for that… 😉

  22. Dominic
    Posted May 23, 2019 at 4:55 am | Permalink

    I seem to recall we tend to get them from mothers. But once on a person they are a bit like island ecologies – isolated, incestuous… Not sure everyone has them either.
    Here are some Dermodex articles –

    DNA barcoding for molecular identification of Demodex based on mitochondrial genes – https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00436-017-5641-5

    Detection, Prevalence and Phylogenetic Relationships of Demodex spp and further Skin Prostigmata Mites (Acari, Arachnida) in Wild and Domestic Mammals – https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0165765

    Evolution of host range in the follicle mite Demodex kutzeri – https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/parasitology/article/evolution-of-host-range-in-the-follicle-mite-demodex-kutzeri/070735935F8E4D77F76129862A95A407

  23. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted May 23, 2019 at 5:37 am | Permalink

    Are these the origin of many itches?

    I bet if someone (not me) skips a shower (or two – just two), there would be an accumulation of these arachnids.

    What about when you get a shot? The isopropyl alcohol blasts them away, right? They don’t get inside… RIGHT?

    And how can they live on sebum and oxygen alone?

    Looks like I’ll be on the Internet a while….

  24. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted May 23, 2019 at 5:45 am | Permalink

    Does this count as a science post?

  25. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted May 23, 2019 at 5:51 am | Permalink

    (Why do I find this so interesting?)

    The first report of these mites was in 1841 by Jakob Henle, in Zurich.

  26. Posted May 24, 2019 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    I was told about eyelash mites last time I saw an optometrist – they apparently screen for the bad ones here now as part of their practice.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 25, 2019 at 1:16 am | Permalink

      The *bad* ones? How do they tell the bad ones from the good ones? Do the bad ones stomp around shouting (or rather squeaking) ‘Sieg Heil’ and doing the Hitler salute, or what?

      What is it the bad ones do that the good ones don’t?

      cr

  27. Posted May 25, 2019 at 3:11 am | Permalink

    This mite explain why some think ignorance is bliss.

    The fact that they don’t excrete on my face makes it less disgusting though.

    -Ryan

  28. Andrea Kenner
    Posted May 26, 2019 at 5:38 am | Permalink

    Ewwww


%d bloggers like this: