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

Itchy and scratchy...allegedly
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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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

How we test


Sophie was Wareable's associate editor. She joined the team from Stuff magazine where she was an in-house reviewer. For three and a half years, she tested every smartphone, tablet, and robot vacuum that mattered. 

A fan of thoughtful design, innovative apps, and that Spike Jonze film, she is currently wondering how many fitness tracker reviews it will take to get her fit. Current bet: 19.

Sophie has also written for a host of sites, including Metro, the Evening Standard, the Times, the Telegraph, Little White Lies, the Press Association and the Debrief.

She now works for Wired.

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