Your face is literally crawling with microscopic bugs, especially around the follicles of your eyelashes and nose hair. Normally, they don't cause problems, but in rare cases they can cause eye infections.
Face mites have been known since the early 1840s, thanks to their near-simultaneous discovery by two German scientists. In 1841, Frederick Henle found tiny parasites living in earwax but he wasn’t sure how to classify them. German physician Gustav Simon discovered the same parasites year later while studying facial pimples.
In 1963, a Russian scientist named Akbulatova noticed that face mites weren’t all the same size and subsequent study determined that the mites were actually different species. Of the more than 60 species of parasitic mites, only two (Demodex folliculorum and Demodex brevis) like to live on humans.
Both can be found on the face, as well as the chest, back, groin, and buttocks. The face mite (Demodex brevis) prefers to live near sebaceous glands, which produce oil the keep the skin and hair moist. These glands also cause pimples and acne when they become clogged or infected. The eyelash mite (Demodex folliculorum) prefers living on the hair follicle itself.
The older you are, the more face mites are packed into your facial follicles. Newborn babies are mite-free, but by age 60, you are infested with face mites. Face mites are believed to spread from person to person via close contact and a healthy human adult is colonized by 1,000 to 2,000 follicle mites at any given time.
The mites on your face have eight stubby legs and long, thin heads and bodies that allow them to easily slip between hair follicles. They spend their lives head-down in the follicle, gripping onto the hair or lash tightly with their feet.
Follicle mites live in groups, with a few mites sharing a follicle. The smaller face mites are loners and generally there is only one per follicle. Both species feed on the secretions of oil glands and eyelash mite is thought to feed on dead skin cells as well.
Face mites are a bit like werewolves in that they don’t like light. After the sun goes down and the lights go off they begin backing out of their follicle and, moving at a rate of about one centimeter per hour, mosey over to a new follicle.
Scientists believe that facial mites only lay one egg at a time because each egg can be up to half the size of its parent. The female deposits her eggs inside the hair follicle and they hatch in about three days and takes a week to reach adulthood. They only live about two weeks.
While mites don’t normally cause a problem an overabundance of mites on the skin and hair follicles cause demodicosis. Symptoms include itchy, red, or burning eyes; inflammation around the eyelid; and crusty discharge around the eye.
People suffering from rosacea and dermatitis tend to have a much higher number of face mites than persons with clear skin, but exactly why is unknown. The mites may cause the skin to break out, or the infection may attract abnormally large mite populations. Large face mite populations have also been found on people suffering from hair loss, loss of eyebrows and infections of hair and oil glands on the head and face.
Meet the mite, the tiny bugs in your mattress, your tea and on your face