Demodex are a family of eight-legged mites that live in the hair follicles and associated sebaceous or oil glands of many mammals.

Two species are known in humans – Demodex folliculorum, which lives mainly in hair follicles on our faces (especially eyelashes and eyebrows), and Demodex brevis, which sets up home in the oil glands on the face and elsewhere.

invisible skin mites called demodex almost certainly live on your face – but what about your mascara?

A Demodex mite under the microscope. Mohammed_Al_Ali/Shutterstock

Newborns don’t have Demodex mites. In a study looking for them on adult humans, researchers could detect them visually in only 14% of people.

However, once they used DNA analysis, they found signs of Demodex on 100% of the adult humans they tested, a finding supported by previous cadaver examinations.

If they live all over humanity, the question arises – are these mites parasites or commensal (harmless) organisms, living in harmony with their unwitting hosts? And which of our daily habits, such as face washing and make-up application, can assist or hinder the mites’ survival? This is where it gets tricky.

Disgusting companions with no anuses

Demodex mites are tiny. The larger of the two human species, D. folliculorum, is about a third of a millimetre long, while D. brevis spans less than a quarter of a millimetre. They also carry a range of bacterial species on their bodies.

A number of methods are used to directly detect mites. The best method is a skin biopsy involving a small amount of cyanoacrylate glue (superglue) on a microscope slide.

invisible skin mites called demodex almost certainly live on your face – but what about your mascara?

A ‘standardised skin biopsy’ for detecting Demodex mites on someone’s skin. (Karabay & Çerman, 2020), CC BY

Cylindrical dandruff around infected hairs is characteristic of mites in residence due to their living habits. Mites can also be squeezed out of follicles with a zit extractor.

The mites feed on skin cells and sebaceous oils, which they predigest by secreting a range of enzymes. As they don’t have an anus, they regurgitate their waste products.

Ensconced in cosy follicle homes, the mites mate and lay eggs; after a lifespan of about 15 days, they die and decompose right there in the follicle.

These fairly disgusting habits may be one reason Demodex can cause allergic reactions in some people, and might also explain a number of associated clinical effects.

Face mites can cause a range of problems

Unfortunately, recent studies suggest a number of conditions involving Demodex mites:

  • a range of rashes
  • acne and pustules on the skin
  • blepharitis or inflammation of the eyelid
  • Meibomian gland dysfunction – blockage of the oil glands on the eyelid, which can result in cysts
  • inflammation of the cornea itself
  • dry eyes and the formation of pterygium, a fleshy growth on the eye.

There are other causes of these conditions, but mites are under increasing suspicion as to their contributing role.


However, not all of us have negative reactions to these creatures. Humans mate randomly, and our genetics are thus highly variable – when we are infected, our genes determine our immune and other responses. Some of us don’t react at all, some of us get an itch for a while, and some get chronic debilitating conditions.

Similarly, mite numbers vary between people – if they reproduce in high levels, they are more likely to lead to issues.

Interestingly, the conditions named above and mite numbers seem to increase with age and in immune-compromised patients, suggesting a correlation with decreased immune function. It appears our immune system is key to understanding mite reproduction and their clinical effects.

Can you get rid of face mites? Or make them worse?

There are a number of therapeutic compounds that reduce mite numbers, but the consensus is that Demodex are a natural part of our skin flora, so it might be best not to eliminate them entirely.

When people suffer chronic disease, more robust treatment might be necessary against the mite population, although reinfection from human family members is highly likely.

Mites do not survive for long off their hosts. Other than direct contact, personal hygiene products probably present the main mechanism of cross-infection.

invisible skin mites called demodex almost certainly live on your face – but what about your mascara?

A close-up of Demodex brevis clearly shows the mouthparts they use to eat oils and skin cells off our faces. Austin Whittall/Wikimedia Commons

Sharing make-up brushes, tweezers, eyeliner and mascara is probably not a good idea, although avoiding infection in a shared bathroom might be difficult. In one study, the average survival time for Demodex in mascara was 21 hours.

Other aspects of make-up use, such as regular cleaning and washing of the face, may reduce mite numbers, although other studies suggest mites survive washing quite well.

Thus, it’s unclear how much you can affect your mite population. However, if you suffer any inflammation of the eyelids and nearby areas, avoiding make-up and seeking medical advice might be best.

Overall, as unpleasant as they might sound, Demodex appear to be a normal part of our skin flora. However, some of us do react negatively to their presence and suffer rashes and inflammation.

Controlling such reactions might be as easy as limiting mite numbers with a wash or treatment prescribed by a medical professional – just know that entirely getting rid of our mite friends is probably impossible.

TECH NEWS RELATED

A nuclear-powered rocket could take astronauts to Mars in just 45 days

NASA’s manned mission to Mars would take seven months with the current technology we have for rockets. However, a nuclear-powered spacecraft could make that trek in just 45 days, according to news shared by the space agency. The design, which has been in the works in some fashion for ...

View more: A nuclear-powered rocket could take astronauts to Mars in just 45 days

Hubble’s stunning Butterfly Nebula image shows how our Sun will die

The sun will die, eventually. Like any star, the one at the center of our solar system is not meant to live forever. Eventually, it will use up all of the nuclear fuel in its core and explode, becoming a shell of what it once was. Now, Hubble’s various images ...

View more: Hubble’s stunning Butterfly Nebula image shows how our Sun will die

Hubble spotted a black hole snacking on the donut-shaped remains of a star

NASA’s Hubble space telescope spotted a black hole munching on the donut-shaped remains of a star in a galaxy nearly 300 million light-years away. The telescope was unable to capture any images of the donut-shaped remains, as the galaxy is too far away. But it was able to capture ...

View more: Hubble spotted a black hole snacking on the donut-shaped remains of a star

Scientists in Canada detected an 8 billion-year-old radio signal in a distant galaxy

Scientists have detected a record-breaking radio signal from atomic hydrogen in a very distant galaxy. The galaxy that the signal originated from is believed to have come from a galaxy at redshift z=1.29. Because of the galaxy’s immense distance, the emission line had shifted to a 48 cm line from ...

View more: Scientists in Canada detected an 8 billion-year-old radio signal in a distant galaxy

Green Bank Telescope captured the most detailed images of the Moon ever taken from Earth

Astronomers have taken the most detailed image of the Moon ever taken from Earth, and it was done with a device that uses less power than a household microwave oven. The Green Bank Telescope, which uses a low-power radar transmitter to capture data, along with the Very Long Baseline Array, ...

View more: Green Bank Telescope captured the most detailed images of the Moon ever taken from Earth

Polar Ignite 3 fitness watch review: Excellent battery, not great performance

While the likes of the Apple Watch may dominate the field in Apple-land, there’s still plenty of room for alternatives, regardless of smartphone platform. Many of these competitors, like Garmin and Polar, focus largely on health and fitness — and the latest of these is the new Polar Ignite 3. ...

View more: Polar Ignite 3 fitness watch review: Excellent battery, not great performance

Scientists think Jupiter’s moon Io may be home to alien life

The volcanic moon, which orbits the gas giant Jupiter, has long been written off as a possible home for alien life, as its extreme temperature and lava-covered surface make it wholly inhabitable. But, now scientists say that the volcanic moon could house life deep underground, perhaps even in the lava ...

View more: Scientists think Jupiter’s moon Io may be home to alien life

Nreal Air smart glasses review: A lightweight augmented reality experience

Mixed reality products are well and truly on the way. While the likes of the Meta Quest Pro perhaps isn’t the best bang for your buck, the Quest 2 is still a great product that makes virtual reality a whole lot more fun. But Meta isn’t the only player around ...

View more: Nreal Air smart glasses review: A lightweight augmented reality experience

Physicists have used entanglement to ‘stretch’ the uncertainty principle, improving quantum measurements

NASA already unveiled a successor to James Webb that will search for life on alien planets

Astronomers reveal the most detailed radio image yet of the Milky Way’s galactic plane

Revolutionary SBSP tech will try to beam solar power to Earth from space

Why does Nepal’s aviation industry have safety issues? An expert explains

Study claims the Milky Way is missing almost half of its regular matter

On a tiny Australian island, snakes feasting on seabirds evolved huge jaws in a surprisingly short time

They say we know more about the Moon than about the deep sea. They’re wrong

Astronomers found a rare star that was eclipsed for 7 years

A nearby galaxy merger may be hiding dual black holes that are 750 light-years apart

NASA’s Lunar Flashlight probe hits trouble on journey to the moon

AI is being used to figure out animal languages, forget Midjourney

OTHER TECH NEWS

Top Car News Car News