Heads up, there are two types of bugs that can take up residence on your eyelashes.
But before you run to the mirror and start inspecting your eyes, take a beat-those bugs (a.k.a., eyelash mites) are actually super common (and normal), says Howard R. Krauss, M.D., surgical neuro-ophthalmologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center.
Still, it’s not necessarily the most comforting thing to know that right now tiny creatures are crawling up and down your lash line-so here’s what you need to know about those eyelash mites, and what they might be trying to tell you.
All right, what exactly are eyelash mites?
Eyelash mites-a.k.a., Demodex folliculorum and Demodex brevis-are passed from person to person and live on the face, typically around the eyelash follicles (that’s where they lay their eggs). They feed on the mucus, sebum, and oils that people tend to secrete from their facial pores and glands surrounding the eye, says Krauss.
Some people have more of these mites than others-say, if you’ve got especially oily skin, or make it a common habit to sleep in your makeup.
The mites can also flock to your skin if your eyes are inflamed or irritated, says Krauss (again, because extra mucus is being secreted).
So how would I know if I had eyelash mites?
Uh, there’s a really, really good chance you’ve already got a troop of eyelash mites calling your lashes home (remember: they love the oil on your face, which is totally normal). You just can’t see them with the naked eye (though if you want to be thoroughly grossed out, look at a fallen eyelash with a 16x magnifier, says Krauss).
Certain conditions may make you more prone to eye mites-though TBH, those underlying problem should concern you more than the mites themselves. If you have blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelids that causes watery eyes, redness, itchiness, or dryness) or allergies, for example, you can probably count on having more eyelash mites, since your eyes are over-secreting mucus.
Women might also have more eyelash mites than men because of hormonal reasons, and older people will often have more eyelash mites than younger ones (your sebum secretion increases as you age, says Krauss).
Okay, but if I’ve got them, how do I get rid of them?
So, you can’t get rid of all your eyelash mites. Also: Eyelash mites are totally normal and nothing to worry about-the things they’re attracted to (irritation, inflammation, extra mucus) are the real problem. “I don’t think you should be worried about having eye mites, but you shouldn’t ignore [discomfort],” Krauss says.
If you have blepharitis, for example, you can apply a warm, moist compress or wash cloth over clean eyes for a few minutes, says Krauss. The warm moisture will make it easier to wipe the crusty buildup around your eyes away. It will also help reduce the secretions which bring on the bacteria that cause eyelid swelling and irritation. Bonus: The fewer gland secretions, the fewer mites you’ll have since they’ll have less to feed on.
Got irritation that just won’t quit? See your eye doctor to figure out what’s going on. Those mites aren’t a problem (seriously!), but watery, crusty eyes might be a sign of a bigger issue.