The only reason that we’re not horrified by our own bodies is that we’re used to them.
Take an alien’s point of view, and you can see how disgusting we truly are. We’re big sacks of oil, water, skin, and bacteria, and our bizarre biology gets even stranger when you look closely. For instance, you might not have known that…
1. Your body can attack its own senses.
Our immune systems are amazing, but sometimes they’re a little too amazing. Take autoimmune inner ear disease (AEID), a condition in which the immune system starts attacking the inner ear. The condition is rare but can eventually lead to permanent hearing loss—all because the body assumed that our ears were working against it (presumably after you turned on that Nickelback song). The immune system can also attack the eyes, nerves, and joints—and in many cases, doctors aren’t really sure why it happens. We do know that the incidence of immune system disorders seems to be increasing, but it’s possible that we’re simply recognizing more cases. As it turns out, our bodies are often their own worst enemy.
2. We’re constantly shedding skin.
We shed from 0.001 to 0.003 ounces of skin flakes every hour, according to a study in Environmental Science & Technology. At this rate, we shed our entire outer layer of skin every two weeks. That means that much of the dust you see coating the surfaces of your home comes from your own body (or the bodies of the people you share your home with). While that’s gross, the good news is that those skin flakes also contain oils, which seem to reduce ozone levels in your home. Ozone can irritate your eyes, nose, and throat, so in a way, your skin dust is doing some good. Still, you should probably dust occasionally. As your dead skin cells accumulate, they attract dust mites, which eat skin cells and create “approximately 2,000 fecal particles” over their 10-week life span. Oh, and they look like this.
3. Eye mites are also a thing.
These mites are thought to be less problematic than dust mites, but they’re no less disgusting. They live on your eyelashes or in the pores of your face, coming out at night to reproduce. We’re not sure what they eat, but given that they live on your face, they probably eat your face. Hey, we’re just saying. There are two species of eye mites, and one species doesn’t have anuses. That means that they gradually get fuller until they die—then the built-up waste degrades on your face. The good news is that they don’t seem to cause any harm, although some scientists have suggested that eyelash mites may cause involuntary twitches. They also might be linked to skin inflammation, but only when they’re over-populated. So, to recap: Eye mites live in your pores, come out at night, reproduce, lay eggs, then die in an explosion of poop. If you don’t feel like washing your face right now, you’re an incredibly disgusting person.
4. Baby teeth are pretty much something out of a Cronenberg movie.
Aw! Junior lost a tooth! Isn’t that adorable? Well, yeah, if you can’t see Junior’s skull. Baby teeth are also known as deciduous teeth, and they start to grow when a baby is an embryo. They gradually “erupt” as a child ages, but around age 6, they’re ejected by the primary teeth in a process called exfoliation. Think about that the next time you’re scrubbing your face. Given that exfoliating teeth are pretty confusing, it’s no surprise that so many cultures believe that something magical happens to the child. In the Western world, we’ve got the tooth fairy, but in Brazil, China, and in many other cultures, the discarded baby teeth are tossed on the roof of the house for luck. In Korea, kids throw their baby teeth at crows while reciting a song. That might sound ridiculous, but remember: At least parents in these cultures aren’t shelling out cash for their kids’ gross baby teeth.
5. Pregnancy is beautiful but also pretty horrific.
Look, we’re not trying to say that motherhood is terrifying; it’s a natural, beautiful process and one of the most important things that a human can do. It’s also terrifying. Sorry. Take, for example, how fetuses can taste some of the foods that their mothers eat, or how those same fetuses repeatedly pee in the womb (and, uh, consume their own urine). How about how pregnant women will often lactate when they hear a baby crying? We could go on, and we will, because we don’t have any shortage of weird pregnancy facts. A pregnant woman’s uterus can grow to 500 times its normal size during a pregnancy, and her feet can grow a shoe size (they can also stay that big, by the way). Pregnant women are more likely to suffer broken bones, thanks to hormonal changes, and after giving birth many women will experience sudden hair loss. All of which is to say that mothers are basically superheroes for what they put their bodies through (and babies are basically parasites—incredibly cute parasites, but parasites nonetheless).
6. We’ve got as many bacterial cells as human cells in our bodies.
Scientists used to believe that there was a 10:1 count of microbes to human cells, but recent research suggests that it’s probably a 1:1 ratio. As one scientist noted to Nature.com, “It’s good that we all now have a better estimate to quote, but I don’t think it will actually have any biological significance.” That’s because the point is that we’re made up of as much bacteria as anything else. What’s more, we absolutely depend on that bacteria to stay healthy. Bacteria help us digest, of course, but they also synthesize vitamins and help us fight off disease. That’s not to say that they’re all good, of course. In fact, scientists have gradually moved away from calling bacteria “good” or “bad,” since some can be both. Escherichia coli (E. coli), for instance, is an important part of your body’s bacterial biome, but it can be deadly if it’s in your food.
7. When you die, your body starts to digest itself.
For the most part, we have a mutually beneficial relationship with our bacteria, but those bacteria get the last laugh. When your immune system stops functioning, the bacteria can spread to other organs, and they do that within a few minutes. Your stomach also plays a role. While you’re alive, your body creates a bicarbonate solution that prevents the stomach from essentially digesting itself. When you stop producing this bicarbonate—due to, oh, say, death—there’s nothing to protect you. Your stomach acid starts eating through your body pretty quickly. Meanwhile, your cells’ acidity increases when they stop receiving oxygen, and all tissues start to break down. It’s a pretty fascinating process from a scientific perspective, and forensics specialists even maintain “body farms” with dozens of corpses decomposing in the open air. The idea is to watch how decomposition changes due to various factors. Stumbling into one of these parks might ruin your picnic, but they provide vital data for the people who solve crimes and create medicines.
8. Oh, and your corpse might also turn into a bar of soap.
Sort of. Okay, not really, but it’s an interesting image. There’s a phenomenon colloquially known as “corpse wax,” and if that’s not descriptive enough for you, well, strap in. Under certain very specific conditions, decomposing bodies can create a substance called adipocere, described by Atlas Obscura as having “a soft, greasy gray appearance when it starts to form.” Over time, it hardens and turns brittle, preserving the body for future generations (provided that there’s enough of the stuff). Yes, your body can essentially mummify itself, provided that it’s left in a “warm, damp, alkaline” environment. Not only do you have a skeleton inside you (spooky), but you might have a mummy as well. Look on the bright side: From the time your mother carried you around until well after you’re dead, you’ll be grossing people out. Not a bad deal, right?