The demodex mite is a very small arthropod that lives in the hair follicles and sebaceous glands of many animals. Some people may know them as “eyebrow mites,” in a reference to one of their favorite hang-outs. Chances are very high that nearly all people are hosting a few of these mites right now, along with a host of other organisms that feed on sloughed skin, hair, and other discards from the body. As a general rule, these mites do not cause any problems, but when they proliferate, it can become an issue.
Two species of demodex mites are commonly found on humans: Demodex folliculorum and D. brevis. These mites are also often found on dogs, in which case the species is usually D. canis. The mites are classified as parasites, unable to survive away from their hosts, and they can jump to new hosts through physical contact with infested areas. They feed on skin cells and oils found near the skin, anchoring themselves in place.
Along with other organisms that call the skin home, demodex mites can actually be beneficial. They help to process waste materials from the body, keeping things more tidy and sometimes reducing the risk of infections and other health problems as a result of accumulated waste. In some circumstances, however, they can proliferate, causing skin rashes, skin sloughing, and hair loss. The mites have also been linked with acne, with some medical professionals suggesting that a profusion of the mites can clog the pores.
In dogs, demodectic mange can be a very serious condition, requiring prompt medical treatment. Both humans and dogs have a number of options when it comes to treating conditions related to the mite. Medications can be used to kill the bugs themselves, typically through topical application, while creams can soothe inflamed, irritated skin that has responded to an infestation. Some home remedies recommend covering the area with oil or other substances to essentially suffocate the mites; this is not advised, as this can cause damage to the skin, depending on what is used to cover it. Motor oil, for example, a popular treatment for demodectic mange at one time, can cause serious health problems.
In some cases, the demodex mite can also carry bacteria that can lead to skin infections and other health problems. Since getting rid of the mites is impossible and undesired, the best course of action for avoiding such infections is to keep the skin clean, regularly scrubbing dead skin and excess oils away.