Raise an eyebrow
Here’s a factoid to get your skin crawling, if it isn’t already: At birth, we’re all mite-free. By age 60, virtually every human adult is infested with face mites, mostly around the eyes and nose. They’re transmitted by physical contact so you can probably thank your partner for sharing more than just a smooch.
Face mites were discovered in the mid-1800s. First by Frederick Henle who found them living in earwax, but wasn’t quite sure what to make of them. He wrote to a colleague, G. Simon, who had simultaneously discovered them residing in the pimples on the noses of patients. Simon consulted an entomologist and the mites were classified as members of the Class Arachnida, Order Acari. They were eventually named Demodex folliculorum.
In 1963, a Russian scientist named L. Kh. Akbulatova noticed that some face mites were smaller than others. He initially believed them to be a subspecies of D. folliculorum, but it was later determined that the shorter mites were a distinct species, now known as D. brevis.
So humans have the privilege of being home to two species of mites.
As you can see from the image above – a scanning electron micrograph by Steve Gschmeissner depicting some mites colored green hunkered around the base of a yellow-colored eyelash – they aren’t much to look at. Though related to spiders and possessing eight legs, their appendages are stubby and used almost entirely for gripping onto a hair.
Face mites, which feed on oily secretions from sebaceous glands and dead skin cells, typically spend their entire life cycle tucked inside hair follicles, moving out only when things get too crowded. They are photophobic, venturing out and about (perhaps in search of a new hair/home) only in the dark. They move at a galloping rate of 1 centimeter per hour, less than half an inch. A healthy adult has roughly 1,000 to 2,000 face mites at any given time.
Scientists have found no clear evidence that face mites contribute to or cause any diseases, but there have been some correlations with conditions like rosacea.