The Normal Microbiota of the Skin


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A diagram showing different regions of the body. Each region has a pie chart that shows which bacteria are most prevalent. The most common bacterium in each region: Glabella (corynebacterineae), Alar Crease (propionibacterineae), External auditory canal (propionibacterineae), Nare (other actinobacteria), manubrioum (propionibacterineae), Axillary vault (proteobacteria), antecubital fossa (proteobacteria), Volar forearm (proteobacteria), interdigital web space (proteobacteria), hypothenar palm (proteobacteria), inguinal crease (corynebacterineae), umbilicus (corynebacterineae), toe web space (corynebacterineae, , propionibacterineae, and staphylococcaceae), reticular crease (propionibacterineae), occiput (staphylococcaceae, back (propionibacterineae), buttock (proteobacteria), gluteal crease (corynebacterineae), popliteal fossa (staphylococcaceae), plantar heel (staphylococcaceae).  Second part of the image shows that different subjects have different bacterial percentages and that these percentages change over time.
The normal microbiota varies on different regions of the skin, especially in dry versus moist areas. The figure shows the major organisms commonly found in different locations of a healthy individual’s skin and external mucosa. Note that there is significant variation among individuals. (credit: modification of work by National Human Genome Research Institute)

OpenStax Microbiology

The skin is home to a wide variety of normal microbiota, consisting of commensal organisms that derive nutrition from skin cells and secretions such as sweat and sebum. The normal microbiota of skin tends to inhibit transient-microbe colonization by producing antimicrobial substances and outcompeting other microbes that land on the surface of the skin. This helps to protect the skin from pathogenic infection.

The skin’s properties differ from one region of the body to another, as does the composition of the skin’s microbiota. The availability of nutrients and moisture partly dictates which microorganisms will thrive in a particular region of the skin. Relatively moist skin, such as that of the nares (nostrils) and underarms, has a much different microbiota than the dryer skin on the arms, legs, hands, and top of the feet. Some areas of the skin have higher densities of sebaceous glands. These sebum-rich areas, which include the back, the folds at the side of the nose, and the back of the neck, harbor distinct microbial communities that are less diverse than those found on other parts of the body.

Different types of bacteria dominate the dry, moist, and sebum-rich regions of the skin. The most abundant microbes typically found in the dry and sebaceous regions are Betaproteobacteria and Propionibacteria, respectively. In the moist regions, Corynebacterium and Staphylococcus are most commonly found. Viruses and fungi are also found on the skin, with Malassezia being the most common type of fungus found as part of the normal microbiota. The role and populations of viruses in the microbiota, known as viromes, are still not well understood, and there are limitations to the techniques used to identify them. However, Circoviridae, Papillomaviridae, and Polyomaviridae appear to be the most common residents in the healthy skin virome.


Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: