The involvement of Propionibacterium acnes in the pathogenesis of acne is controversial, mainly owing to its dominance as an inhabitant of healthy skin. This study tested the hypothesis that specific evolutionary lineages of the species are associated with acne while others are compatible with health. Phylogenetic reconstruction based on nine housekeeping genes was performed on 210 isolates of P. acnes from well-characterized patients with acne, various opportunistic infections, and from healthy carriers. Although evidence of recombination was observed, the results showed a basically clonal population structure correlated with allelic variation in the virulence genes tly and camp5, with pulsed field gel electrophoresis (PFGE)- and biotype, and with expressed putative virulence factors. An unexpected geographically and temporal widespread dissemination of some clones was demonstrated. The population comprised three major divisions, one of which, including an epidemic clone, was strongly associated with moderate to severe acne while others were associated with health and opportunistic infections. This dichotomy correlated with previously observed differences in in vitro inflammation-inducing properties. Comparison of five genomes representing acne- and health-associated clones revealed multiple both cluster- and strain-specific genes that suggest major differences in ecological preferences and redefines the spectrum of disease-associated virulence factors. The results of the study indicate that particular clones of P. acnes play an etiologic role in acne while others are associated with health.