Mascara brushes can harbour eyelash mites
Credit: Manuel Marin CC-BY 2.0 Generic via Wikimedia Commons

What could be lurking in your make-up bag?

It has to be the last thing that you're thinking about - tiny bugs on your mascara brush! However, these critters called - Demodex follicular - are very common and they're more widely known as the 'eyelash mite'.

They'll live quite happily on other areas as well, such as the eyebrows, forehead, nose or even in the ear canal. If you happen to have oily skin this can be even more attractive to them. However, the biggest risk is for those who wear heavy make-up on a regular basis - the hazard increasing if meticulous care is not taken with cleansing. Having said this, most adults are likely to carry one or two demodex no matter how clean you may think you are. Nevertheless, keeping the numbers down is beneficial to us all.


Eyelash mites tend to be night workers, this is there most active period for feeding and breeding. They feed by burrowing their heads into the skin where they feed on dead skin cells and secretions from sebaceous glands. The females usually lay their eggs in the hair follicles and this is where the young mites hatch.

Is there any good news?

Well there is one thing we need to be grateful for . The mites don't have an anus. This means that they don't drop poo on you.

How do you get rid of them?

The simple answer to this is - with difficulty. However, recommended substances include tea-tree oil based products and also exfoliating may help to, if not get rid of them, at least to reduce their numbers.


demodex follicular

Eyelash Mite
Credit: Popular Science Monthly Volume 14 Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Scientific information

What has science discovered?

After reading all the gross stuff about these eyelash critters, the good news is, that unless you have a major infestation, they are actually harmless. In fact it is probably the case that to keep our eyes healthy, we actually need a few of these mites. They're very good at keeping the eye area clean by removing dead skin cells. Problems only arise when their numbers increase too much and competition over hair follicles, leads to eye irritation, itching and redness. Even more serious is the specific conditions caused by too many eyelash mites such as:

  • Blepharitis - inflammation of the eyelid margins
  • Pityriasis folliculorum - rough, dry scaly skin
  • Conjunctivitis - inflammation of the conjunctiva of the eye

 What you may ask has all this got to do with your make-up bag? Well, research has shown that these mites like nothing more than snuggling into the clumps of mascara on your brush, or burrowing into damp make-up brushes and sponges. The reason is simple - these objects have traces of dead skin cells that they feed on. It's also no good having a frantic search through your cosmetics. Unless you put your things under a  microscope you won't see anything.

What is better for your health anyway, is not to get rid of them all, but to keep their numbers in check by:

  • Using a gentle cleanser after washing your face. This is particularly important if you regularly wear heavy make-up. This can help to keep the mite numbers under control. Tea-tree oil products seem to work particularly well.
  • If you have very dry skin, in addition to cleansing, use a moisturiser daily.
  • Exfoliating the skin also helps to keep numbers in check by reducing the amount of debris on the skin surface.
  • One tip is to use diluted baby shampoo dipped in cotton wool to cleanse your eyes - keep your eyes closed while doing this even if the product states that it's a 'no tears' recipe. Using any shampoo directly into the eye will not only cause irritation and dryness, but could cause more serious eye conditions to develop.
  • Clean out your make-up bag regularly, discarding any you no longer use. It's a good idea to also clean the inside of the bag with mild detergent.


If you're unfortunate enough to get an infestation then medical treatments are available.  These medicines usually take the form of ointments that not only kill the mites but also their eggs. If the infestation has caused an infection such as blepharitis then a course of antibiotics can also be given. In particularly bad cases a short course of steroids may also be prescribed.



Unfortunately it's a fact of life here on Earth that we not only share the planet with millions of other life forms, but our bodies as well. The majority do no harm and as with the eyelash mite they could be beneficial. However, as with anything in life, too much or too many is usually never a good thing.