Medically Reviewed by Dr. Yasir Bari
Bsc, (Med) Bsc, (Nutrition), MBBS, DCN (Diploma in Clinical Neurology) – Reviewed & Approved on October 26, 2018
-Written by Angela Deckard
New fact of life: tiny spider-like bugs emerge from your pores and crawl over your face during the night. Often, we don’t know it, because we remain asymptomatic, however, in some people, an infestation occurs, creating a host of problems.
What are Demodex Mites?
Demodex is what we call the mites found living in the human face.
These eight-legged mites are often found on the forehead, cheeks, sides of the nose, eyelashes, and outside of the ear canal. When people experience an infestation of Demodex mites, they are suffering from a condition called demodicosis.
Some people call them eyelash mites or bugs, eyebrow mites but they are all the same mite from the genus of Demodex.
There are two known mites known to live in the human face: demodex folliculorum and demodex brevis.
Demodex folliculorum describe mites that live in the hair follicles, particularly in the eyelashes. These mites feed on the skin cells. Demodex brevis are mites that live in the oil glands of the skin and feed on the gland cells.
Dogs are host to another species of mite called demodex canis. They typically don’t cause any issues for dogs. They can jump to humans for a short period of time—but they will not survive on human skin.
These mites hate the light, so they emerge at night, mating on an opening of the hair follicle of your eyelashes. They like to lay their eggs either on the sebaceous glands or in your eyebrow or eyelash hair follicles. Within 4 days, these eggs hatch into 6-legged larvae.
After 7 days, these larvae will turn into full-grown adult mites, ready to mate and continue the infestation cycle. The demodex mite lifespan is usually 2 to 3 weeks.
Who has Demodex Mites?
Demodex mites are most often found in older children and adults. Demodex mites are rarely found in younger children, as they have yet to develop enough sebum to feed the mites.
People suffering from an immunodeficiency disorder (such as HIV or leukemia) may find a proliferation of these mites on their face.
People taking immunosuppressive drugs or under a lot of stress may also show signs of an infestation.
There is no link between Demodex mites and personal hygiene. Mites just simply prefer some faces to others, with very little explanation.
People with oily skin may find themselves more vulnerable to eyelash mites, as mites like to feed on the sebaceous glands.
Women who wear mascara or a lot of eye make up tend to have a higher prevalence of Demodex mites on their eyelashes.
Not washing your face at night: Not washing your face at night or sleeping with make
upon your face can make you more vulnerable to an infestation of Demodex mites.
Early morning itchiness
Because the mites have an aversion to light, they conduct most of their business at night and crawl back into the hair follicles in the morning, causing their host to itch. People may experience eyelid and eyebrow itching.
People with an infestation of mites may experience Demodex blepharitis; reddened, crusty, itchy, burning eyelids. People may find the skin of their lids thickening as well.
Severe cases of Demodex mites may lead to an eye infection.
Some people’s vision may be compromised due to these mites. These mites may affect the tear film of the eyes, causing your vision to blur. Fortunately, this is temporary, once the infestation is cleared up, your vision will return to normal.
People may experience their eyelashes falling out if there are many mites residing in a single eyelash follicle.
Demodex Mites and Rosacea
The connection between rosacea and Demodex mites is controversial and still being studied, however, skin mites have been connected to creating inflammatory skin diseases (1).
It is believed that rosacea is not caused by the mites themselves, but the bacteria in the feces that they carry.
A 2010 research analysis found that rosacea sufferers are almost 8 times as likely to have a Demodex infestation than someone with normal skin. (3) The researchers concluded that an association exists (not necessarily causation).
The study also found that the degree of infestation played a bigger role in rosacea development than did simply having an infestation.
This leads me to believe that reducing Demodex levels can only have a beneficial effect.
Updated Research on the link Between Demodex and Rosacea
A recent study published in 2018, set out to examine the link between Demodex frequency on eyelash follicles and rosacea. The study involved 82 people altogether – 41 patients who had been diagnosed with rosacea as well as a control group of 41 people.
The researchers detected the presence of Demodex by direct observation of eyelashes under a microscope. Demodex were observed in 24 of the 41 patients with rosacea and in just 8 of the 41 patients without the condition. This represented a statistically significant difference.
The researchers concluded that rosacea was a significant factor in Demodex indestation of the eyelashes regardless of age or sex. (4)
Demodex Mites and Acne
These mites may promote acne in some affected people. The connection between acne and Demodex is not as strong as it is for rosacea.
A 2012 Chinese meta-analysis found that people with acne vulgaris had almost 3x the likelihood of Demodex infestation. (2)
Association is not causation, however—but Demodex may be contributors to some acne.
People who suffer from acne produce three times the amount of sebum of non-acne sufferers, creating a sebaceous feast for these mites. It is not clear what is the “chicken or egg” in the acne / Demodex connection.
A recent study set out to confirm or refute the link between demodex and acne. The study involved 108 patients with varying severity of acne as well as a control group of 65 volunteers. The presence of demodex was detected with an SSSB.
The results proved very interesting. Demodex was observed in over 40% of the acne group but only in 12% of the control subjects representing a statistically significant difference. the study also linked Demodex positivity to alcohol consumption people with adult acne.
This study is the first to evaluate the link between Demodex incidence with acne type and severity. The researchers concluded that Demodex infestation ought to be considered in cases of post adolescent acne in cases where classical treatment is ineffective. (5)
Demodex Mites and Blepharitis
Blepharitis is an inflammatory condition that causes inflammation in the eyelids with symptoms like crusting, redness and watering. researchers have found that Demodex mites are present in many people suffering from blepharitis.
Demodex mites and Androgenetic alopecia
There is also a link between Androgenetic alopecia and Demodex. Alopecia is an inherited condition that causes hair loss in both males and females. There is speculation that chemicals produced by Demodex mites can trigger inflammation in the hair follicles.
While Demodex mites don’t actually cause the condition, an infestation may make it worse.
How Demodex folliculorum is diagnosed?
Because demodex mites are not visible to the human eye, the only way to get a concrete diagnosis is to visit a doctor. Your doctor will diagnose the mites by scraping a small amount of oils and follicular tissue from your face. A biopsy of the skin will then determine whether the mites are present or otherwise.
In the majority of cases, no medical treatment will be necessary. We will soon be looking at some very effective home remedies including tea tree oil and these home remedies should do the trick. However, your doctor may prescribe a topical ointment to help trap the demodex mites and prevent them from laying eggs in your other follicles.
Your doctor might also prescribe antibiotics in the form of metronidazole. You may also be prescribed a topical insecticide like permethrin or crotamiton which help reduce the number of mites.
How to Kill Demodex Mites-Treatment
By now, you are probably worried, wondering if you too have these mites crawling on your face.
The answer is probably yes. For a lot of people, they are perfectly harmless, however, if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, there are steps you can take to clear up and prevent an infestation. When it comes to prevention, hygiene is extremely important, so make sure that you take care of your eyelashes and eyelids by following these measures.
Clean your eyelids
The first step to eradicating any mites on your eyelashes is to thoroughly clean your eyelids, taking care to remove the oil mites love to feast on.
Baby shampoo or tea tree shampoo are highly recommended when it comes to carefully, yet thoroughly cleaning your eyelids.
Cleanse face twice a day
Cleansing your face with a mild, non-soap cleanser twice a day is a good way to keep the mites off your face and minimize oil production, cutting off a mites food supply.
It is recommended that you stay away from oil-based cleansers and consider using a cleanser with tea tree oil.
Exfoliate twice a week
By periodically exfoliating your skin, you clean out your pores and remove the dead skin cells that mites so much like to feed on.
Using over the counter antibiotic ointments is another way to treat Demodex mites.
Before using these ointments, discuss this option with your ophthalmologist and make sure that the ointment is ophthalmologically safe. These ointments prevent the mites from moving and possibly suffocate them.
Tea tree oil is one of the best known and effective ways to treat and eradicate a Demodex mite infestation. There are several ways you can use tea tree oil to address an infestation:
- Tea tree oil can be very irritating to the eyes, so dilute it with a carrier oil like macadamia nut oil.
- Rub equal parts tea tree oil and macadamia nut oil on your eyelashes every night for about six weeks, making sure not to get any oil in your eyes.
- Cleaning your face with a cleanser that contains tea tree oil is an important step in keeping mites off of your face.
- Use a tea tree oil shampoo on the hair and eyelashes every day.
- Apply an ointment or oil cream that contains 5% tea tree oil to the skin around the eyelids. This prevents mating and therefore prevents reinfestation from occurring around the eyes.
- Use a tea tree oil lid scrub to not only kill mites but to prevent them from laying eggs in the hair follicle as well.
Just like tea tree oil, lavender oil is also known to kill eyelash mites. To eradicate these mites, simply rub lavender oil on your eyelids every night before you go to sleep. Make sure not to get any oil in your eyes.
Throw out your make up: If you’re suffering from a Demodex mite infestation, throw out all of your make up and buy new makeup. While treating an infestation, do not wear make up for one week.
Check your partner
These mites can travel. Their scaly bodies make it easy for them to travel from one person to the next via hair follicles through casual contact.
So make sure everyone in your household has been checked to thoroughly eradicate the problem. This includes pets too, as they are also vulnerable to these mites.
Buy new pillows and bed sheets
These pesky little mites can be hiding in your linens so throw out any contaminated sheets and pillowcases to effectively end the infestation. If you skip this step, it is possible to suffer from a re-infestation.
- If the treatment plan fails and if you still have issues it is best to see a medical healthcare professional. They may prescribe a broad-spectrum antiparasitic drug like ivermectin. Tea tree oil typically will work but it is irritating to some people.
Tea Tree Oil is the Best option if you are choosing between the 2 Oils
Tea tree oil is used in Demodex blepharitis (eyelashes) treatment by many medical professionals.
Remember that undiluted Tea tree oil can irritate eyes and skin. It is best to dilute to 25-50% with a carrier oil.
For Eyelashes a Q-Tip dipped in a diluted solution and brushed on the eyelashes can be used. For skin/rosacea use I’d dilute to 25% or less and test on a small spot to make sure there are no reactions.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are Demodex mites in humans?
Demodex in humans is found on the face especially on the forehead, the nose, the cheeks, the eyelashes, and the ear canals. It can lead to a condition known as demodicosis. There are two types of mite usually involved in human infestation – demodex brevis and demodex folliculorum.
Are Demodex mites contagious in humans?
Yes they are. Demodex mites can be passed from person to person when you make some type of physical contact like kissing, hugging or intercourse. They can also be passed on by sharing a bed and items like towels or flannels. Having said that, there is no need to worry unduly. Not all people who have a demodex infection have any problematic symptoms and the vast majority experience no symptoms whatsoever.
How do you treat demodex?
In the vast majority of cases, demodex mites do not cause an issue and there will be no need to seek treatment. Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic or a topical ointment. However, there are several excellent home remedies that can treat your demodex mites effectively.
A combination of baby shampoo and tea tree essential oil should be all you need. Baby shampoo can help to eradicate the mites themselves while tea tree oil can help rid your skin of the eggs.
Does coconut oil kill Demodex mites?
No, it does not. Having said that, coconut oil is perfectly safe to use on your skin if you have Demodex mites since the mites do not feed on it. While it may not kill the mites, it can help moisturize your skin while you are treating the infestation.
Can you see Demodex mites?
No you can not. These tiny mites are far too small to be seen with your naked eye. Doctors will perform a skin biopsy and check for the presence of demodex under a microscope before making a diagnosis.
- Demodex mites are a relatively harmless infestation of the facial skin.
- Most people will develop no symptoms after being infested and will not need any treatment.
- Home remedies include baby shampoo to kill the mites and tea tree oil to destroy the mite eggs.
- Other ways of preventing infestation and the spread of infestation include a proper cleaning routine, including proper cleansing and exfoliating. You should also but new bed sheets and pillows if you or your partner is infested.