Demodex: Mites That Live On Your Face!
Demodex folliculorum, also known as Demodicids and “face mites”, is a species of tiny mites that live in the hair follicles on humans—primarily around your face, near the nose, eyebrows, scalp, but more commonly around the eyelashes. Demodex brevis is another shorter type of Demodex found in the sebaceous glands connected to hair follicles. While mites can be beneficial in the removal of dead skin cells, an overabundance of mites can cause numerous problems. Large infestations of Demodex are called Demodicosis.
Researchers have identified Demodex to be a profound contributor to hair loss and a cause of some skin problems such as acne, rosacea, blackheads, and skin irritations.
These mites have been observed since the 1840s and they are passed on from contact with others starting as early as infancy; e.g. a parent rubbing their cheek on their baby’s face as an innocent gesture of love.
Anatomy of Demodex
Adult mites have a semi-transparent body that is up to 0.3-0.4 mm long and can only be seen by high-powered microscopes. Their bodies are segmented into two with one part having eight short legs. Their bodies are covered with scales for anchoring themselves to the hair follicle. They have pin-like mouth parts for eating skin cells, hormones and oils (sebum) in your hair follicles. Because Demodex is sensitive to light, they leave hair follicles only at night and slowly walk around on the skin at a speed of 8-16 cm/hour.
Above video: Demodex under the microscope
Both males and females have a genital opening for mating but neither have an excretory opening to excrete waste due to their highly efficient digestive system. In order to repopulate, eggs are laid inside the hair follicle opening or sebaceous glands. After 3-4 days, six-legged larvae hatch and take about seven days to develop into adults. Their total lifespan spans several weeks and at the end of their life, they decompose inside the hair follicles or sebaceous glands.
How Demodex Can Affect Our Bodies
Demodex is generally harmless to a large percentage of the population who may not experience skin troubles. Others that are more susceptible to Demodex-related problems may be unaware that it is the underlying cause of or contributor. People with oily skin are particularly prone to having the mites. Signs of Demodex mites are frequent itchiness around your eyebrows, eyelids, or nose, especially at night or early morning.
There is a close association between inflammation and Demodex. It is suggested that skin inflammation and infection results when a large number of mites infest a single hair follicle. The mite is commonly associated with the inflammation of the eyelids, a condition that is known as Demodex blepharitis. Symptoms include itchiness, discomfort of the eyelashes, and loss of eyelashes. Research has shown many as 25 mites can colonize a single eyelash.
Video above: Channel 13 Interviews Dr. Panzer About Eye Mites
Some research suggests that the Demodex mites are not the direct cause of hair loss but rather our body’s reaction to Demodex. In some people, their body reacts by instigating an inflammatory response to reject the mites. The inflammation, however, blocks the hair follicle killing both the mite and the hair follicle.
Another common reasoning for hair loss from Demodex is the severity of the infestation. Because the mites feed off of sebum produced by the sebaceous glands and dead skin cells, too many mites feeding off of one hair follicle can cause malnourishment to the follicle resulting in loss of the hair.
Demodex can clog the sebaceous gland openings resulting in acne, blackheads, and rosacea. However, research is indifferent to conclude whether an increase in Demodex is a cause or a result of these skin disorders.
Our Immune System’s Role
Our immune system is what keeps these mites in check. Research has shown that people with weak immune systems are more prone to Demodex infestations.
In a study published in 1986 involving 370 individuals, it was found that from:
- ages 0-25, 1/3 of the young age group had Demodex
- ages 26-50, Demodex was found in 1/2 of the middle aged group
- ages 51-90, 2/3 had Demodex
An explanation for the low occurrence in children is that they produce less sebum which is what the mite feeds on. While both men and women exhibited cases of Demodex, more males (60.5% of 327 males) were affected than females (11.6% of 43 females). However, the number of females was too insufficient to reveal any trend.
Demodex in Animals
Demodex can also affect dogs and cats, usually pups with weak immune systems via prolonged direct contact from mother to newborn. It typically results in hair loss and itching around the eyes, face, and legs. A more serious case of the infestation is called red mange where either small areas around the body, just the paws, or the whole body become affected with red pustules and wrinkly skin. Due to the upsetting nature of the images, we have not included an image for reference.
Treatment Options for Animals
Dogs and cats with demodicosis may require intensive treatment with amitraz (Mitaban®, the only FDA-approved drug for treating demodetic mange) dips or oral medications which lasts 6-9 sessions. Whole body clipping is required throughout the treatment in order for the dip solution to reach the hair follicle. The dips are followed by a medicated shampoo to fight the infection.
Treatment Options for Humans
Unfortunately, the lack of in-depth research done on Demodex mites has not resulted in many definitive conclusions or reliable treatment options.
Choose your cleaners wisely. Harsh chemicals in shampoos and facial cleansers can worsen the infestations because they result in stripping the scalp and body of its natural oils which can upset the balance of your skin, causing an overproduction of sebum for the mites to feed on. It is best to maintain an all-natural hair and body care regimen that does not use harsh ingredients like sulfates.
|Demodex solutions by Atomy|
Consult your eye doctor/dermatologist if you believe you are affected by Demodex blepharitis. Your doctor will likely recommend a hygiene regimen for your eyelids involving over-the-counter lid scrubs or other cleansing agents. Depending on the severity of the case, one may require supplemental treatment with topical and/or oral medicine.
Tea tree oil has been proven to kill Demodex when applied topically. Apply your tea tree oil treatment once a night to the affected area with a cotton swab or cotton pad. It will take a minimum of 6 weeks but may take 8 weeks or longer to kill all cycles of eggs. When using tea tree oil in liquid form, it should be diluted to 50% or less with other oils like coconut or macadamia. Pure tea tree oil should not be used anywhere on the face as it can be toxic and extremely irritating.
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