But don’t worry, you’re not alone. Everyone in the world has tiny, microscopic creatures living on their face and in their hair. No matter how much you shower or scrub your face with cleanser, they’ll still be there, hanging out in your hair follicles and among your skin cells.
For those of you who haven’t already run to the bathroom to try to loofah off a layer of your skin, I have some good news. These little critters, also known as face mites, are kind of like itty-bitty family pets you never knew you had. First, they don’t do any harm. I mean, you didn’t even know you had them until I said something, right? And second, everyone’s mites are genetically distinctive to them.
What that means is that if you were born in France, you have a predominantly European breed of mites on your face. Even if you’ve moved several times in your life, your face will still retain mites from your family’s place of origin. They were passed down to you from your parents and grandparents and even their parents’ parents. So the next time you miss your family, just remember you’re carrying around a little bit of them on your face!
Research from the California Academy of Science was released on the subject today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. What they discovered is that there are four major lineages of face mites people around the world have. They, of course, correspond to their areas of origin: African, Asian, European and Latin.
The first face mites came from Africa, because that was where early humans are believed to have originated. But as people (and mites) migrated around the world and developed physical characteristics unique to their environment, their mites changed right along with them. That means that mites on an African-American face are distinctly different from those on an Asian face, and so on.
Lead researcher Michelle Trautwein explains to Wired, “Some [skin types] do show different levels of hydration and different levels of oil production and different density of glands.” So the mites had to evolve along with the skin on which they took up residence.
The only mite type that seems to pop up more commonly among the others is the European mite. This made sense to the researchers, because Europeans spent a good chunk of history traveling around the world, colonizing other regions. During that time, not only did their bloodlines mix with the people native to those areas, so did their mites. Anyone else scratching their face obsessively right now?
But mass colonization isn’t the only way our face mites migrate around the world. They jump ship from your face as quickly as it takes you to kiss your grandma on the cheek on Christmas Eve. Face touching, especially cheek to cheek, is how mites get transferred from one person to another. While the researchers note this type of intimacy happens most among family members, in today’s day and age, you could easily be exchanging mites with a number of almost strangers.
“If you do have multiple people in your family that you spend a lot of time being physically close to, if you have multiple romantic partners across your life, there’s all these different opportunities to be colonized,” says Trautwein. That means, because of hookup apps like Tinder, millennials today probably have some of the most diverse mite populations on their faces to date.
So now that you know the little critters on your face have this huge lineage that dates back millions of years in some cases, does that make it any less gross? No? Well, too bad — they’re still your tiny face friends forever.