Why mites having sex on your face is healthy for you
There are trillions of little organisms living in and on your skin that are crucial for your skin’s health. You might accept this so far. But what about the fact that there are mites having sex on your skin while you are sleeping? Does this thought cause you to cringe? Before you panic, let’s get to know them first and find out why they are important to us and why they might be in danger.
As a reader of our newsletter, you are probably very aware of the trillions of microorganisms that live in and on your body and are essential to your overall health. Even if you are very knowledgeable about the microbiome, this fact might blow your mind – and pores – wide open: Every night mites are having sex on your face. And it’s supposed to be like that.
If your first thought is “this is gross”, don’t panic! Everybody has them and the wellbeing of your skin depends on them. So, let’s get to know these little guys a little better…
The Demodex mites were first discovered in 1841. Their eight-legged, worm-like bodies are approximately 0.3 mm long and have a lifespan of two to three weeks. As the mites feed off of sebum (product of our sebaceous glands), they live in hair follicles and sebaceous glands of the skin and prefer areas of high sebum production like our forehead, cheeks and nose. In the past they were wrongfully blamed for causing skin conditions, because scientists thought that they had no anuses and therefore secreted all their feces upon dying, causing inflammatory skin reactions.
However, they are not unwanted invaders we need to get rid of. Quite the opposite. Over the millennia we developed a symbiotic – meaning mutually beneficial – relationship with the Demodex. As they are unable to protect themselves against UV radiation and cannot produce the sleep hormone melatonin, they hide inside our pores during the day. When they come out at night, they use the melatonin secreted from our tissuses to feed and mate. By feeding off of our sebum they are unplugging our pores and thereby keeping our skin healthy.
Demodex are found in the skin of every age group. We are not born with them but get them through breast-feeding and close skin contact with our mothers. Actually, they are mostly passed on by our mothers and are rarely transferred horizontally among people.
The sad thing is, the first-ever study of the Demodex mite’s genome led scientist to conclude that it may be facing (no pun intended) extinction. Their isolated life inside our pores sheltered them from external threats and competition. Not mating with other mites prevented changes in the genetic makeup of upcoming generations. This form of inbreeding caused their gene pool to reduce and made them very simple organisms.
All that being said, the Demodex are not a thread to our health. By taking care of our skin microbiome we might be able to slow down or prevent the extinction of our little friends. So, let’s cuddle, get some sleep and let our mites mate.
Sources / References:
Demodex folliculorum infestations in common facial dermatoses: acne vulgaris, rosacea, seborrheic dermatitis
Demodex folliculorum and Demodex brevis (Acari: Demodecidae) and their association with facial and non-facial pathologies
Demodex-Milben können Rosazea auslösen
Demodikose - häufig bei Patienten mit seborrhoischem Hauttyp
Human Follicular Mites: Ectoparasites Becoming Symbionts
In most humans, D. folliculorum (hereafter Demodex) is completely harmless, although clinical disease associated with this mite can manifest in some people (Thoemmes et al. 2014; Pormann et al. 2021).The reason why certain people show pathology in the presence of Demodex has now been unraveled in one case. Chronic demodicosis can be linked to a gain-of-function mutation in the immune response of humans against Demodex (Martinot et al. 2021; Shamriz et al. 2021).
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