Staphylococcus epidermidis-Skin friend or foe?

PLoS Pathog. 2020 Nov 12;16(11):e1009026. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1009026. eCollection 2020 Nov.


Our skin is our first line of defense against environmental and pathogenic challenges. It is densely populated by a flora of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that normally interact with each other and with our immune system to promote skin health and homeostasis. Staphylococcus epidermidis is one of the most abundant bacterial colonizers of healthy human skin. While the field has historically assumed that all S. epidermidis isolates behave similarly, emerging evidence suggests that colonization by specific strains of S. epidermidis can either help or hurt the skin barrier depending on the context. In this short review, we discuss what is currently understood about S. epidermidis strain-level diversity and evaluate costs and benefits of S. epidermidis skin colonization. We challenge the current dogma that "all S. epidermidis strains behave equally" and posit that behavior is in fact highly context and strain dependent. Finally, in light of current proposals to use skin commensals as nonantibiotic treatments for acute or chronic skin diseases, we conclude that more work is urgently needed to fully understand the pathogenic and protective roles of commensals before we use them therapeutically.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Skin / microbiology*
  • Staphylococcus epidermidis / physiology*
  • Symbiosis*