This article exists as part of the online archive for HuffPost Australia, which closed in 2021.

There Are Tiny Little Mites Living On Your Eyelashes

This might explain why mascara dries out so quickly.
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The human body is a wonderful, complex, fascinating machine.

Your body breathes without you telling it to, your heart pumps 7000 litres of blood a day through your veins, and your scalp and eyelashes are home to millions of little mites.

Say what?

Yep. You're a mite machine. It sounds kinda gross, but it's not really.

"Hair follicle mites live not on, but in the sebaceous glands of hair follicles, especially those on our head, including eyelashes," Owen Seeman, Collection Manager of Arachnida and Myriapoda at the Queensland Museum told The Huffington Post Australia.

Aren't they cute?
Aren't they cute?

"They spend most of their lives hidden just under the skin in the sebaceous gland where they feed on sebum, which is the oily stuff that lubricates and waterproofs our skin. Immature mites leave their homes to find new follicles, crawling over our skin, but perhaps along hairs too, and males probably roam on our skin in search of females," Seeman said.

And when they mate, they do it outside, on the opening of the hair follice. The eggs are laid on the sebaceous glands, or in your eyebrows. Mites don't like light, so prefer to come out and do the deed at night.

Before you run to the pharmacy to douse yourself in mite-fighting chemicals, relax. They are totally normal, and the vast majority of the population have them.

"Most people have hair follicle mites, but exact percentages vary," Seeman said.

"One professor I had claimed that every person in our laboratory would have them and made us all stay until we caught our own. It was much harder for some, but all 20 or so of us did in the end. Apparently he did this somewhat painful exercise with every class each year. Others find values around 50 to 60 percent. Clearly the vast majority of people who carry these mites show no ill effects, so generally no treatment is needed."

It's commonly believed that these mites are the reason your mascara is perfectly fine one day, but dry and clumpy in the tube or on the brush the next. As for if wearing makeup can aggravate them, Seeman has anecdotal evidence, but no proof.

Chuck it after three months, or as soon as it starts to dry out and get clumpy. And never share mascara with others.
Kat Chadwick
Chuck it after three months, or as soon as it starts to dry out and get clumpy. And never share mascara with others.

"I've heard this, but seen no good evidence of this effect. The mites should be fairly safe in the follicle. I guess very oily makeup could enter the follicles and cause mites to leave them. My impression is that make-up probably has little effect overall, especially as our scalp has the biggest population of mites and (I hope) we're not putting make-up there," Seeman said.

It's also believed that people with oilier skin and scalps will have mites, or more mites, which makes sense, seeing as the mites feed off oil. Mites aside, it's always a good idea to thoroughly cleanse away any makeup, including eye makeup, each evening before bed. Replace your mascara every three months.

For the most part you won't even know the mites are there and you can carry on your regular life. For a select few though, they may contribute to rosacea or a few other conditions.

"In most cases there should be no symptoms. However, these mites are sometimes linked to skin conditions, especially rosacea. We still don't know if mites can cause rosacea, or just do really well with people with rosacea."

"People with suppressed immune systems can also suffer from these mites, with a condition called demodicosis. One of the better and fairly safe treatments for mites seems to be tea-tree oil, which causes mites to evacuate their follicles and roam -- and when a mite leaves the safety of its home, it's highly vulnerable to being washed or scrubbed off," Seeman said.

Just think of all the cool places mites have been.

"As most adult humans seem to have these mites, I like to point out that mites are probably the only other animal, with legs, that has been to the moon!" Seeman said.

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