What a Bowdoin researcher has learned about the tiny mites crawling on your face

So, yes. Your face has a bunch of mites on it. They live in your hair follicles and consume your body’s oils. These mites eat, reproduce and live their own tiny lives and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Take a minute to accept that fact. Let it sink in.

Even though humans have always carried these mites, it turns out that scientists don’t know that much about them.

But researchers — including one from Bowdoin College — have started learning more about these mites.

A team of researchers, including Michael Palopoli of Bowdoin College and Michelle Trautwein of the California Academy of Sciences have been sampling mites from the faces of volunteers in America, according to The Atlantic:

The sampled mites from 70 American volunteers, either scraping the creatures up with a bobby pin, or simply pulling their DNA straight from swabbed foreheads. They sampled colleagues, friends, local students, or people who turned to “Meet Your Mites” face-sampling events. “A lot of diverse people come to our events,” says Trautwein.

One thing they’ve discovered is that there are four different lineages of a certain mite and they show up on people from different parts of the world.

People of African descent have the most different kinds of face mites. People whose ancestors came from Europe tend to have mites from Group D, as it’s known. People from Asia mostly mites from the B and D group.

These mites aren’t just jumping ship if you move to a different continent. As the Atlantic puts it:

“The common sense idea would be that an African-American who had been here for generations would have picked up mites from people of European ancestry,” says Palopoli.

That wasn’t the case. Instead, “some of these people are maintaining mites for generations outside of their region of ancestry,” says Trautwein. Her team even sampled one volunteer who was born in Asia and had moved to the U.S. eight years before—and his face was full of the Group B mites that are common in Asia.

It also turns out that these mites don’t just hop from random face to random face — though the mites can jump among family members.

“We’re not sharing them in the subway but only among our close family,” said Trautwein. “That allows them to be a marker for human evolution.”



Dan MacLeod

About Dan MacLeod

Dan MacLeod is the managing editor of the Bangor Daily News. He's an Orland native who moved to Portland in 2002 and now lives in Unity. He's been a journalist since 2008, and previously worked for the New York Post and the Brooklyn Paper.