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What are Demodex Mites?

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 08, 2021

Demodex mites are microscopic eight-legged organisms found primarily in the sebaceous and hair follicle glands of your face. You can scrub your face as much as you want, but it’s pretty much impossible to get rid of them. Demodex mites typically come out at night when you’re asleep so they can feast on your dead skin cells before retreating to their hiding spots to lay eggs. 

Types of Demodex Mites

There are two different types of Demodex mites that live on the human body, the Demodex folliculorum and the Demodex brevis. D. folliculorum mites are around 0.3-0.4 millimeters long, while the D. brevis is slightly smaller at 0.15-0.2 mm. Both types of Demodex mites have elongated, semi-transparent bodies made up of two fused segments, with the first segment having eight legs attached.

The bodies of both types of Demodex mites are covered in scales that help them attach to your hair follicles. Demodex mites have mouthparts designed to consume skin cells, oil, and hormones found in your hair follicles.

D. folliculorum mites tend to stick around your face, while D. brevis mites tend to migrate to the neck and chest area. A D.folliculorum mite likes to get inside the upper part of a hair follicle and survive on skin cells and oil. D. brevis mites prefer going deep into your sebaceous glands and feeding on the cells.

How Demodex Mites Survive on Your Body

Mating between male and female Demodex mites typically occurs in a follicle opening. Once fertilization occurs, the mites lay eggs inside sebaceous glands or hair follicles. New larvae hatch within 3-4 days and become adults after seven days. 

Most Demodex mites survive for around two weeks. Once they die, the mites break down inside your hair follicles and sebaceous glands.

Demodex mites can move from host to host by attaching to hair follicles (including your eyelashes) and sebaceous glands. Since it’s impossible to see the organisms with the naked eye, there’s no way to tell you’ve just picked up some new guests after coming into contact with another person.

How Demodex Mites Impact Your Health

Small numbers of Demodex mites can be beneficial because they remove dead skin cells. Most people never realize they have organisms living and thriving on the surface of their skin. As long as your Demodex mite population remains under control, you are unlikely to experience any adverse health effects.

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However, some people end up with too many mites burrowing into the skin, leading to an infestation that causes inflammation in different parts of the body. People between the ages of 20-30 may be especially vulnerable to developing demodicosis, an infection caused by sensitivity to the overpopulation of Demodex mites.

Older people and children under five years of age may also be prone to a Demodex mite infestation. Some common conditions caused by too many Demodex mites include:

Blepharitis. Blepharitis is an inflammation of the eyelids caused by a blockage in the oil glands in that area. It’s possible for a Demodex mite infestation to cause blepharitis by blocking the oil glands at the base of your eyelashes. That’s often the reason that patients over the age of 60 develop blepharitis.

Signs of blepharitis can include:

  • Redness
  • Tearing
  • Dry eyes
  • Burning or stinging sensation in the eyes
  • White flakes in eyelashes
  • Feeling like something is in your eye
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Brittle eyelashes
  • Loss of eyelashes
  • Bouts of blurred vision

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Rosacea. New research has found a definitive tie between rosacea and Demodex mites. Researchers looking into causes of the skin disorder discovered larger numbers of Demodex mites on the skin. Debate continues on whether rosacea causes a Demodex mite infestation or whether it's the result.

One theory is that having too many Demodex mites on the skin can trigger a reaction in individuals diagnosed with rosacea. Another is that rosacea is the result of bacteria tied to Demodex mites.

Treatment for Demodex Mites

If you have a rosacea breakout or a blepharitis issue that doesn’t seem to resolve, you may want to see a doctor about your condition. They can perform a microscopic examination of your skin or eyelashes to look for the presence of Demodex mites that might be causing demodicosis.

Blepharitis caused by Demodex mites can be treated by cleaning your eyes daily with warm water. Warm compresses can relieve swelling and clean your lashes and eyelids. You can treat demodicosis of the face by washing it twice per day with a non-soap cleanser. Try to avoid using any oil-based cleansers or makeup on your skin.

If you're dealing with blepharitis, your doctor may be able to perform an eyelid microexfoliation to provide some relief. Medicated ointments can help prevent the spread of Demodex mites from your eyelashes. 

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

RESOURCES:

AARP: “Are Your (Ew!) Eyelash Mites Out of Control?”

DermNet NZ: “What is demodex?”

Indian Journal of Dermatology: “Human Demodex Mite: The Versatile Mite of Dermatological Importance.” 

National Rosacea Society: “Causes Of Rosacea: Demodex Mites & Microbes.”

NPR: “Meet the Mites That Live On Your Face.”‌‌

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