A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

Are there critters living in our eyebrows?

January 15, 2004

Dear Straight Dope:

While debating the existence of bed bugs, a coworker informed me that there are things that live in our eyelashes. I suppose she means they are living organisms, and according to her they are present whether or not we wash our faces. Unless the size of these things is measured in microns, or they are what people commonly refer to as lice, I can't seriously believe she's right. I was hoping you might be able to help me settle this debate.

Your coworker is correct, and only told you the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There are follicle mites that live in your eyebrows (and other types of hair), skin mites that cover your face (especially your forehead), and dust mites crawling over every inch of your body and your clothing. They are arachnids, and thus more related to spiders than to insects, and are so small as to be essentially invisible to the naked eye. There's pretty much nothing you can do to be completely rid of these critters, and, as far as we can tell, they are either beneficial to us or at least not doing any harm--in other words, if we could get rid of them, we might regret it. For instance, skin mites are far more abundant on people with clear, clean complexions than on those with oily complexions and dirty skin, and some believe they actually help keep your complexion clear (i.e., the more you have, the better for your skin). If I were you, I'd worry more about bacteria and fungi, which actually do pose health risks, and just keep washing your hands.

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