The human skin microbiome plays important roles in skin health and disease. However, bacterial population structure and diversity at the strain level is poorly understood. We compared the skin microbiome at the strain level and genome level of Propionibacterium acnes, a dominant skin commensal, between 49 acne patients and 52 healthy individuals by sampling the pilosebaceous units on their noses. Metagenomic analysis demonstrated that while the relative abundances of P. acnes were similar, the strain population structures were significantly different in the two cohorts. Certain strains were highly associated with acne and other strains were enriched in healthy skin. By sequencing 66 previously unreported P. acnes strains and comparing 71 P. acnes genomes, we identified potential genetic determinants of various P. acnes strains in association with acne or health. Our analysis suggests that acquired DNA sequences and bacterial immune elements may play roles in determining virulence properties of P. acnes strains and some could be future targets for therapeutic interventions. This study demonstrates a previously unreported paradigm of commensal strain populations that could explain the pathogenesis of human diseases. It underscores the importance of strain level analysis of the human microbiome to define the role of commensals in health and disease.Journal of Investigative Dermatology accepted article preview online, 21 January 2013; doi:10.1038/jid.2013.21.