In recent years, significant progress has been made in the understanding of the pathophysiological mechanisms of acne and the role of Propionibacterium acnes. With this review, the authors aim to provide an update on the current understanding of the role of P. acnes in the development of acne lesions and analysing the potential implications for future treatments. A total of 188 articles published between January 1980 and March 2013 were searched using key words such as acne, P. acnes, microbiology, Corynebacterium acnes, acne vulgaris, pathogenesis, antibiotic, vaccination and a combination of those key words. From those articles, 77 were analysed in depth. Recent data confirm that P. acnes has a strong proinflammatory activity and targets molecules involved in the innate cutaneous immunity, keratinocytes and sebaceous glands of the pilosebaceous follicle and leads to the development of comedones. Furthermore, the profile of its different strains may differ between healthy subjects and acne patients. The better understanding of the role of P. acnes may allow for new perspectives in the treatment of acne. Novel therapies should target molecules implicated in the activation of innate immunity, including toll-like receptors, protease-activated receptors and topical antimicrobial peptides; the latter may be an alternative to topical antibiotics and thus a solution for limiting bacterial resistance induced by topical macrolides. Vaccines may also be promising. However, the most appropriate candidate remains to be selected.