You have mites on your face

May 22, 2019 • 11:30 am

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:

Source

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.

Source

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 thoughts on “You have mites on your face

    1. 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 .

  1. 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.

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

    1. 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.

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

    1. 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

  2. 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.

    1. 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?

      1. 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.

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

      2. 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?

  3. 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.

    1. 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

      1. 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.

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

  5. 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.”

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

    2. 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.

    3. 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

    1. 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

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

    1. ” 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 .

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

    😉

  9. 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?

    1. 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🙀

    2. 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?

    1. 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

      1. 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.

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

  11. 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?

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.”

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

  16. 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

  17. 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….

  18. (Why do I find this so interesting?)

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

    1. 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

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