The Undetectable World On Your Skin

Say hello to Demodex Folliculorum and Demodex Brevis!

These microscopic organisms are on you, specifically in the moist regions of your skin. The elongated, worm-like Demodex folliculorum resides in pores and hair follicles, while the spider-like Demodex Brevis prefers to settle deeper in your oily sebaceous glands. These creatures spend their entire lives eating, mating and dying on your face and body. They primarily feed on the flakes of dead skin which our bodies are constantly shedding. The tiny Demodex Folliculorum live in the roots of your eyelashes. Why they are there has yet to be discovered, but what we do know is that no matter how much you wash your skin, everyone has them. Showering does help reduce the number of microbes on your skin, but it does not get rid of them. Hence why your bellybutton is home to hundreds of bacterial species… who’s really sticking their finger in their bellybutton when they shower? 

Photo courtesy of BBC

A study conducted by Megan Thoemmes in 2014 at the North Carolina State University found that every human tested had Demodex DNA on their face. Thoemmes looked at the face because that is where these microorganisms tend to cluster (given the fact that our faces have larger pores and sebaceous glands than other parts of the body). What differed between subjects was the population size of mites on their faces; some had low mite populations of hundreds and others had high mite populations of thousands.

What Thoemmes concluded is that, contrary to popular perception, humans aren’t biologically self-sufficient organisms; we have this symbiotic relationship with these bugs. What the bugs do is unclear, but most scientists theorize they work as a natural cleansing system (because they are constantly eating our dead skin). There are also many fundamental microbes in the gastrointestinal tract that are essential for digestion and absorbing nutrients. Our bodies are like complex ecologies supporting a wide array of life.

Photo courtesy of Safari Books Online

At high magnification, an alien landscape appears where hair follicles look like trees and the skin appears to be a rugged and hilled terrain. In such terrain resides these microorganisms that have established a permanent niche in the habitat of our skin. A single bacterium can multiply to more than a million in about 8 hours. So hey, if your love life isn’t going too well, at least you have the consolation of knowing that you are never truly alone. These microbes are with you 24/7 and they are living in a world that lies beyond the human eye.

The best way to think of it is by relating it to the book Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss. There’s life thriving on you that no one can see or hear, but in the words of Dr. Seuss, “Even though you cant see or hear them, a person’s a person, no matter how small.” It’s a reminder that life is grander than we sometimes come to believe and that there is still so much we have yet to discover.