Body Site Is a More Determinant Factor than Human Population Diversity in the Healthy Skin Microbiome

PLoS One. 2016 Apr 18;11(4):e0151990. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0151990. eCollection 2016.


We studied skin microbiota present in three skin sites (forearm, axilla, scalp) in men from six ethnic groups living in New York City.

Methods: Samples were obtained at baseline and after four days following use of neutral soap and stopping regular hygiene products, including shampoos and deodorants. DNA was extracted using the MoBio Power Lyzer kit and 16S rRNA gene sequences determined on the IIlumina MiSeq platform, using QIIME for analysis.

Results: Our analysis confirmed skin swabbing as a useful method for sampling different areas of the skin because DNA concentrations and number of sequences obtained across subject libraries were similar. We confirmed that skin location was the main factor determining the composition of bacterial communities. Alpha diversity, expressed as number of species observed, was greater in arm than on scalp or axilla in all studied groups. We observed an unexpected increase in α-diversity on arm, with similar tendency on scalp, in the South Asian group after subjects stopped using their regular shampoos and deodorants. Significant differences at phylum and genus levels were observed between subjects of the different ethnic origins at all skin sites.

Conclusions: We conclude that ethnicity and particular soap and shampoo practices are secondary factors compared to the ecological zone of the human body in determining cutaneous microbiota composition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arm / microbiology
  • Axilla / microbiology
  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Ethnicity*
  • Humans
  • Hygiene*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • New York City / ethnology
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics*
  • Scalp / microbiology
  • Skin / microbiology*


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S