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

Itchy and scratchy...allegedly

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.


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7 comments

  • PaulBrown·

    ive got a series 2 apple watch and wearing it for one day leaves a red band where the strap has been, even just wearing for work for about 8 hours, it's sore and itchy.. so something is not right with these rubber straps.. apple should look into it.

  • ShenaHumbert·

    I have the first gen Apple Watch. I have pretty sensitive skin so I was a little caution at first. I even asked the sales person about any know “rashes” caused by the watch. Of course it was so new I don’t believe there had been many reports or info on it yet. I had worn it for a while without any issues. I also made it a point to take it off, clean the band with alcohol and let air dry. I wear it Monday through Friday at work and take off at night. I also don’t wear it on the weekends. With all that I still get a itchy rash. It’s a circular dry red spot. Maybe it’s just my skin? I’m not sure but It’s very annoying though because I love my watch.

  • TraceyLambe·

    I have a rash on my arm from my Apple Watch back , not the strap . I switched it to my right wrist & within a week I had a rash in that wrist too . Has anyone actually tried clear nail polish in the back ? I am asking because I wondered if it would stop the heart rate monitor from working . Years ago I was told to put clear nail polish on certain types of earrings to stop my ears hurting & it works perfectly. 

  • Alexshotu·

    I had an apple watch series 1 and I was using it to work out and the band was a normal apple watch band that comes with it and that is not what I had a problem with it seemed the sensor cause a scar in my skin that I still have to this day and when wearing I could feel it burn as though someone was taking a surgical laser to my skin so I took it off and was left with a mark on my wrist where the sensor lies needless to say I sold the watch this problem is something that I am not alone with and belive that tech watches are something that need a little more work considering it is put on your skin and wore for hours in a day usually. Especially considering the amount of issue we have with tech emitting radiation and the links of that to cancer.

  • Harleytiger·

    My wife bought me an Apple Watch for our anniversary and I use it to track fitness cardio and weight training. It has caused a rash on my wrist that is very itchy and noticeable. I had to stop wearing the watch. I don't know what is causing it? The metal? The Radiation? i don't know? It's not comfortable. I pretty upset that I have this expensive watch that I can't wear because the irritation and burn rash it gives.

  • Toneida·

    My Apple Watch has burned my wrist so bad. I am not wearing this watch anymore. This watch cost too much to cause this kind of harm. I’m waiting to hear back from Apple to resolve this issue. Very disappointed

  • Aj0923·

    I have a hive like rash on my wrist, which is not uncommon for me as Im allergic to certain metals, grass, and plastics. Ive had an apple watch for several years now and just in the last year or so Ive started getting a rash right where the original band would latch and press against my skin. Im in Law Enforcement so I figured it was a mixture of the band and some factors of my job. I figured switching the band would help so I went out and purchased a velcro band figuring theres nothing in the material that Im allergic... I must have been wrong. Woke up today again with an itchy and bumpy wrist.. As much as Ive read Im just going to assume its the watch face its self, as its the only “metal” left and a mixture of sweat/factors of the day...Should probably work on making hypo allergenic products considering they arent cheap by any means..