Know about the face mites that live rent free on your skin and procreate in your follicles

It might not make you very happy knowing this, but you almost certainly have tiny mites living in the pores of your face right now. And it is not just you, but almost every human, if not mammal on this planet has these.

They’re known as Demodex follicular or eyelash mites, and just about every adult human alive has a population living on them.

The mostly transparent critters are too small to see with the naked eye. At about 0.3 millimeters long, it would would take about five adult face mites laid end to end to stretch across the head of a pin.

They share a symbiotic relationship with us such that they need us to survive while we need them for good skin health, including for reducing acne and managing other skin infections.

However, a new study published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, which analysed the DNA of mites using genome sequencing indicates that their genome may be eroding or these tiny mites may be reaching their evolutionary dead-end.

Scientists are worried that these mites may become extinct because their individual functions have reduced. This will bode ill for us as it  will cause a decrease in the longevity and functionality of the mites altering the symbiotic relationship, and thus increasing our skin sensitivity to antigenic exposure.

The skin is the largest organ providing us not only a physical barrier from environmental toxins but also serving as an acid mantle by maintaining pH levels and preventing growth of harmful bacteria, fungi or viruses on our skin. The microbiome of the skin plays a major role for its functionality. With the changing genome structure of mites like Demodex, there is increased dependency on the human genome. This could be a big problem for us as they keep our pores clean of sebum and prevent clogging along with being crucial for peeling off of dead skin cells.

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.

While they are completely harmless and our immune system keeps numbers in check, it is possible in rare cases to have an infestation of them, mostly in people with weak immune systems. Despite this, Demodex are considered commensal organisms, not parasites. This means they derive food and shelter from their host, but don’t actually harm them – consider them friendly, helpful neighbours that you don’t want to get too close a look at.

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