A significant loss of microbial biodiversity on the skin has been linked to an increased prevalence of skin problems in the western world. The primary objective of this study was to obtain a benchmark value for the microbial diversity found on healthy western skin, using the Chao1 index. This benchmark was used to update our 2017 skin health measuring mechanism in line with standardised methodology. It used 50 human participants from Graz in Austria and at a read depth of 6600 sequences, we found the average Chao1 diversity to be ~180, with upper and lower quartiles of ~208 and ~150, respectively. Previous work with a larger sample size was unsatisfactory to use as a benchmark because different diversity indices and evaluation methodologies were used. The Medical University of Graz used the most recent version of the Chao1 index to obtain diversity results. Because of this study, we can transfer other benchmarks of skin microbiome diversity to the methodology used in this work from our 2017 study, such as “unhealthy western skin” and “caveman/perfect skin”. This could aid with the diagnostic assessment of susceptibility to cutaneous conditions or diseases and treatment. We also investigated the effect of sex and age, which are two known skin microbiome affecting factors. Although no statistical significance is seen for sex- and age-related changes in diversity, there appear to be changes related to both. Our preliminary results (10 in each of the five age groups) show adults aged 28–37 have the highest average diversity, and adults aged 48–57 have the lowest average diversity. In future work, this could be improved by obtaining benchmark diversity values from a larger sample size for any age, sex, body site, and area of residence, to which subjects can be compared. These improvements could help to investigate the ultimate question regarding which environmental factors in the western world are the main cause of the huge rise in skin problems. This could lead to future restrictions of certain synthetic chemicals or products found to be particularly harmful to the skin.
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