Microbes found on the skin are usually regarded as pathogens, potential pathogens or innocuous symbiotic organisms. Advances in microbiology and immunology are revising our understanding of the molecular mechanisms of microbial virulence and the specific events involved in the host–microbe interaction. Current data contradict some historical classifications of cutaneous microbiota and suggest that these organisms may protect the host, defining them not as simple symbiotic microbes but rather as mutualistic. This review will summarize current information on bacterial skin flora including Staphylococcus, Corynebacterium, Propionibacterium, Streptococcus and Pseudomonas. Specifically, the review will discuss our current understanding of the cutaneous microbiota as well as shifting paradigms in the interpretation of the roles microbes play in skin health and disease.