What you need to know about these Apple Watch skin irritation complaints

Itchy and scratchy...allegedly
Has Apple Watch got a rash problem?

People are complaining on social media about Apple Watch skin irritation, rashes and 'burns'. Still. We saw a few of the first cases of customers asking for Watch refunds late in 2015 but, like Fitbit before it, Apple is finding out what happens when you add humans into the tech equation.

Because we are not shiny, binary machines we come in all different shapes, sizes and sensitivities. And that's a challenge for any company that makes wearable tech. Because sometimes our skin gets itchy. And blotchy. And sometimes we blame our smartwatch or fitness tracker.

We take a look at some high profile allegations and Apple's advice for those whose smartwatch is getting under their skin.

A rash of rashes

Dr. Terry Simpson (a weight loss surgeon who previously worked in genetic engineering) recently blogged about his skin becoming irritated, reportedly from owning an Apple Watch for a year.

"I moved the watch to the other wrist – shortly after that skin was irritated," he posted. "That tells me several things: A compound in the watch (probably nickel) began a sensitisation of my skin and every time I will wear it this will become worse. It is not the band (most of us have had watch bands that don't give us problems). It is not some reaction with your skin sweat – like a battery – that would be immediate and universal. It means they probably need to change to an all steel watch or a plastic backing that is inert."

In November 2015, Jørgen Mouritzen alleged that his Apple Watch caused two severe burn marks on his wrist, reported by Danish news site Ekstra Bladet. Mouritzen even said he had a witness who saw the heat that caused the burn come from the Watch. What's interesting is that the burn marks correlate to where the Apple Watch band would have been on his wrist, not the Watch body itself.

Mouritzen posted a photo showing a burned Watch strap. Apple came back and said that it tested Mouritzen's Apple Watch and found no evidence that it caused his injuries, according to 9to5mac. It also pointed out that there are no "active electronics" in the official Apple Watch bands and Apple also said the "burn" damage to the band was external.

It seems an isolated incident and no-one else has accused the Apple Watch of actually burning them but Apple sold a ton of smartwatches (about 5 million) over Christmas but the rash complaints are a First World Problem that's not going away. In December and January, Twitter users have continued tweeting to complain about rashes reportedly caused by their Apple Watch devices.

Apple's advice

These complaints have been new territory for a tech company which well, still essentially makes personal computers, though we have heard of the occasional exploding iPhone allegation before. Still, on Apple's Watch support page (last modified on 5 October 2015), Apple details the tests its products go through and gives some care and cleaning advice.

Of particular note is the following: "A small number of people will experience reactions to certain materials. This can be due to allergies, environmental factors, extended exposure to irritants like soap or sweat, and other causes. If you know you have allergies or other sensitivities, be aware that Apple Watch and some of its bands contain the following materials: Nickel, Methacrylates."

It then goes on to list which components and accessories contain both those materials and which checks it has in place.

Critically, the amount of nickel used in Watch bodies, straps and magnets inside the device fall below European regulation levels but some people may still be susceptible to nickel-related reactions.

Read this: The best Apple Watch cases for added protection

That's very similar to Fitbit's guidance in its own response to skin irritation complaints. Fitbit's consulting dermatologists said the reactions are "likely from sweat, water or soap being held against the skin under the device."

Apple also points to the fit of your Watch as an important factor in avoiding irritation. "Another potential cause of discomfort is wearing your Apple Watch too tightly or loosely," the support page reads.

"An overly tight band can cause skin irritation. A band that's too loose can cause rubbing. If you experience redness, swelling, itchiness, or any other irritation, you may want to consult your physician before you put Apple Watch back on."

As for cleaning the Watch, Apple recommends a non abrasive lint free cloth which you can dampen with water. It recommends cleaning after workouts (when your skin will no doubt be sweaty) and after exposure to liquids including soap, suncream and other skin lotions.

Wearable tech's embarrassing problem

The damage for Wareable ed James Stables after using a Fitbit Charge HR

This isn't the first time users have accused their wearable tech of causing skin irritation. Hundreds of Fitbit wearers have complained of skin issues after wearing fitness trackers like the Fitbit Charge HR and our 'Rashes and skin irritation' thread on the Wareable Forum is our most popular.

Our resident rash-getter and executive editor James Stables has experienced skin irritation while wearing the Fitbit Charge HR and Basis Peak – as well as a slight rash from a too-tight Garmin Forerunner 235. But, interestingly, he's never had any rashes while wearing the Apple Watch day to day.

The rest of Team Wareable has remained rash free while testing nearly every piece of wearable tech that has been released recently apart from editor Michael Sawh who experienced some itchiness while wearing the Fitbit Charge HR.

It's no surprise that the complaints we are seeing on forums and headlines relate to Fitbit and the Apple Watch because, simply, they are the most popular wearable tech devices. Fitbit sells more fitness trackers than anyone else and the Apple Watch sold half to two thirds of all smartwatches in 2015, according to various analyst reports.

If you think you've experienced something similar, Apple does seem to be swapping Watch units for some people have complained so it might be worth getting in touch. Otherwise, stick to the cleaning guidance, try out different bands or even a case and give your wrists some rest from time to time.

Have you experienced skin irritation, rashes or burns and think your wearable is the cause? Let us know in the comments below and on the Wareable Forum.

15 Comments

  • kron says:

    Nickel, Methacrylates are common in both aluminum and the process to harden and protect Aluminum alloys. Only thing that really won't irritate skin is Stainless Steel and Gold. Anybody who wears ear rings about rashes wearing any other kind of metal?

  • FirstDerm says:

    A rash caused by a wearable is not surprising, watches have had the same problem for decades. It there are over 200 million wearables out there, some people will be allergic to the material.

    Epidemiology of Nickel allergy (http://bit.ly/1of6bAm)

    In 2400 consecutive patients at 8 clinics in 5 countries, nickel hypersensitivity was found in 176 cases (7.3%), 19 male (2.1%) and 157 female (10.5%). The incidence ranged from 15 to 38 cases in 300 patients of every department (5.0% Sofia to 12.7% Erfurt). 60.6% of the nickel positives were schoolgirls or younger than 25 years. The exposure time was 3 years, in 49% 1 year or shorter. Most cases (75%) are not occupationally acquired, but due to costume jewelry (31.8%), wrist watches (23.3%), metal clothing buckles (3.4%) including jeans buttons. Job dependent nickel dermatitis is often (36/51 cases) linked with wet work. Atopic dermatitis was found in 8.3% of female nickel allergy. Nickel positivity without a dermatitis history was seen in 9/176 cases (5%). Nickel allergy will become a sex-indifferent phenomenon in Europe, because of the changing customs of adornment.

    We are an online dermatology service, we get cases like this daily. The common rash is usually caused by allergic reaction to the wearable or eczema. We do get a few rashes that are not caused by the wearable, such as herpes zoster. 

    One of our dermatologists have written a comprehensive guide on how to take care of short term issues here: https://www.firstderm.com/fitbit-rash-allergy-or-contact-dermatitis/

    Hope this can be of some value to the wearable "rash" community.

  • Jmb says:

    I had to give up wearing pierced ear earings a very long time ago because of severe skin irritation. I was given a FitBit last year. After a fevered I developed a very red rash on my wrist. My son now has my FitBit. I got  an Apple Watch a few months ago and now have rash problems. I have worn the watch on both wrists and developing the rash on each within a week or so. I can't believe that Apple blames the rash on everything downplaying an allergy. Certainly they can come up with a solution, but of course that will cost them money. Using clear fingernail polish is an insult. 

  • Kathrnlnc says:

    I already knew I had a nickel allergy. My Sport Watch band causes a rash on the side of whichever wrist I wear it on. The rash is no where near any metal parts. I've been wearing the watch since last May.  I alternate wrists in order to try to limit the rash but within a few days, it returns. 

    I love my watch and hate to not wear it. 

  • Repo says:

    i too have developed a rash and irritation from my apple watch. Very maddening  considering the price I paid for it and can't even use it 

  • Kristi says:

    I had a fit bit HR and returned it because my arm kept getting tingley and going numb. I had the same issue with the Apple Watch Sport and got a small rash from the metal circle of the clasp. So after reading a bunch of posts decided to try the gold Apple Watch Sport and after 3 day happy to report I have had no issues!

  • Desta says:

    I also have a nickel allergy. My burn marks, however, are near the wrist band and not the actual watch which doesn't make sense. It doesn't actually itch or  burn, just looks like a burn mark. More worrisome is the fact that I am losing tissue wear the watch is. You can clearly see an indent in my wrist and see/feel that tissue (muscle?) that exists in my other wrist is gone from the wrist with the watch. Anyone else have this happen?

  • AppleII says:

    I have burn scar which color changed to brown due to apple watch;

    They're 2 circle just coresponding to 2 holes of 4 holes on backside of apple watch.

    I guess that burning is caused by some energy fired by watchs -

    Apple watch, Fitbit, and etc.

    And they are blaming nickel allergy to cover

    that they don't know how to control adeqate anergy

    to check bio-parameters like heart beat, I guess.

    I've sold my apple watch and today orderd a sony smartband swr30.

    Will it harm my wrist like the apple watch? 

  • karenduron says:

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  • CCJ says:

    I love my Fitbit Blaze and wear it daily. I got it two months ago and the only time I remove it is to charge and when I shower. I clean the back of it (that touches my skin) once a week with Isopropyl Alcohol. Now after two months of pretty constant use, I have a bright red, puffy rash in the square shape of the heart rate monitor. I have moved my Blaze over to my dominant wrist to allow the non-dominant one to "breathe" and hopefully the rash will clear up. What I find interesting is I don't have a rash from any of the aftermarket stainless bands I wear with it, I have a rash from the HRM. Has anyone had this issue before with their trackers that have the HRM? Thanks!

  • Mphili says:

    1. Anyone getting rash on wrist using Apple Watch sport !
    2. Apple Watch a few weeks causing wrist rash 
    3. How to post pictures on this site please
  • Mphili says:

    • hi I got rash from Apple Watch strap they are saying it is possible that nickel in metal part of sports strap 
  • Tigressia says:

    I used to wear watches as a kid. I was a huge watch fan. But sometime lately in the past decade, i started getting an itchy sensation and red rashes from the bracelets of the watches I wear. Metal or rubber bracelets. There must be some chemical they started infusing in the watches that they didnt have before. I wish there was a place that i could bring an old watch and they would compare it with a new watch to see what kind of material each one used. This allergy has stopped me from buying watches altogether. I don't want to buy a watch that I can't use. Leary right now until they fix the problem. 

  • codybrosseau says:

    Apple Watch has given me a rash. Apple has refused to help but rather offered me a 10$ off my next purchase . They won't be a next purchase sorry.

    https://www.instagram.com/p/BMMhAUeA14s/

  • Joaneecee says:

    • I have had my new Apple watch for approximately 2 months.   It is stainless steel.   I noticed the burn mark underneath the watch itself, not the band.   The itch extends from underneath the watch to about 4 inches up my arm from there.   For years I wore a gold watch before this Apple.   Never experienced such a sensation.   Would be open to any suggestions as I enjoy wearing this watch.   

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