The skin ‘they’ live in

Your body is host to all manner of creepy crawlies that make up a delicate ecosystem that helps to fight infection, bad bacteria and other nasties. Many of these microscopic creatures are harmless, even helpful, and disrupting the balance can lead to other health issues. Others you’ll want to get rid of right away. So, without further delay, let’s meet our guests, shall we?


Contrary to the name, ringworm is not actually a worm. It’s a type of fungus that can live on almost any part of your body. It looks like a scaly, red patch of skin and, if found on your head, can cause hair loss. It also goes by the name of athlete’s foot or jock itch and can be treated with antifungal creams, sprays, powders or pills.


Not super common but prevalent nonetheless, especially for anyone who’s travelled to parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Hookworm enters the skin if you step barefoot on ground with infected faeces, moving to your gut where it is mostly harmless, but can cause coughing, wheezing or stomach pain. It can go away without treatment, but if you think you have it, see your doctor.


Found in infected beef, pork or fish, tapeworms can grow up to 10m long inside your intestines, causing diarrhoea, cramps and weight loss. If you have one, you may see tiny eggs or pieces of the worm in your stool. This is not one of those beneficial creepy crawlies – they’re quite nasty – and, unless treated, can lead to brain cysts causing headaches, seizures and confusion.

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Head lice

Most often carried around by children, head lice aren’t picky about their residence, and can live in the heads of all ages. While not dangerous, they are incredibly contagious, and the itch can drive you mad. Can be treated with over-the-counter shampoos and treatments, then combed out with a wet, fine-tooth comb.

Face mites

As you age, your face picks up teeny tiny spiderlike bugs called demodex. They occupy your face by the thousands and are almost invisible and harmless – they just feast on the dead skin cells and oils you discharge each day.


Also known as the ‘human itch mite’, scabies burrow into the top layer of your skin to feed off your armpits, groin, between your fingers and toes and under your belt. Basically anywhere that’s warm and enclosed. If you have scabies, you’ll know about it. You’ll break out into a lumpy, itchy rash and only prescribed treatments will get rid of them. You’ll also have to wash all your clothes and bedding to make sure they’re gone.

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Careful where you swim or you may swallow some of these tiny parasites. Giardia is mainly found in untreated still water, such as well water and swimming pools or hot tubs and ponds, in contaminated food, and can spread through contact with someone else who has them. These nasties will give you cramps, bloating, gas, weight loss, burps that smell like sulphur, and foul-smelling diarrhea, or you may show no symptoms at all. Regardless, not a guest you should keep around.

Bellybutton bacteria

That little dent in your tummy manufactures sweat, oil and other things that attract or repel bacteria. Some of the bacteria could cause illness if found in other places, but in your belly button, they can actually help you fight off dangerous germs.


Candida Albicans is a mostly harmless yeasty fungus that normally lives in the gastrointestinal tract and other areas of the body without causing harm. It primarily assists digestion and nutrient absorption and helps your immune system to destroy harmful bacteria. While it’s typically a helpful fungus, it can get out of control and cause swelling and itches in the dark, warm places of your body, such as your mouth, in the folds of your skin and crotch. It also goes by the name of ‘thrush’ and can be treated with antifungal medicines and ointments.

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Gut microbiome

Most of the tiny things that live in your body are in your gut. Millions of microscopic beasties called microbiomes interact with your diet, your body and the outside environment, but researchers aren’t exactly sure how.

Mouth creatures

Your mouth is home to an ecosystem of fungus, bacteria and viruses that mostly assist with digestion and keep your mouth in good order. But again, once out of control, can cause all sorts of health issues, such as cavities, mouth sores, bad breath and more.

Lactobacilli bacteria

A delicate balance of microscopic creatures also live inside your vagina, and generally operate as the first line of defence against nasty microbes that can cause bad odour, discharge and itches. Lactobacilli bacteria maintain the acid levels in your vagina, and promote good vaginal health by preventing bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections.

Armpit microbiome

Even your armpits are host to microbiome that fight off bad bacteria and other germs. However, wearing antiperspirant drastically alters this mix.


Have we missed any? Do you know of other microscopic creatures that live on or in your body?

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How hygienic is your tea towel?
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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.


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