How to avoid getting a rash from your fitness tracker

fitness tracker rashA rash is a noticeable change in the texture or colour of your skin. There are numerous causes including allergies, medications, cosmetics and certain diseases, such as chickenpox and measles. While the usual concerns for gadget buyers focus on specifications, with the advent of fitness trackers and smartwatches, consumers can add considerations about their own skin sensitivity to the list.

Fitbit made the news back in 2014 with the recall of its Force wearable fitness tracker (pictured on the right) after some users developed rashes on their wrists. The device had been on sale for just five months and was supposed to be the high-profile successor to the Fitbit Flex.

The reactions we are seeing with new products are not uncommon with jewellery or wearable devices that stay in contact with the skin for extended periods,” Fitbit said in a statement at the time.

“According to our consulting dermatologists, they are likely from wearing the band too tight, sweat, water, or soap behind held against the skin under the device: or from pressure or friction against the skin and should resolve quickly when users take a break from the device, usually within hours or days.”

But rashes aren’t just a Fitbit problem. In the past, Jawbone, Garmin and Polar users have complained about rashes, burns and allergic skin reactions.

Everyone’s skin is unique. But there are a number of common reasons wearing a fitness tracker can cause your skin to revolt.

  • Allergies: Manufacturer have a part to play. Choosing soft, durable plastics with perforated grids to improve breathability helps. The nickel used to make stainless steel is another culprit as some people have nickel sensitivity. Almost one in five people in North America are allergic to nickel, including 11 million children.
  • Soap: Substances such as soap are irritants to the skin. Most soaps contain a combination of ingredients like lye and oil, as well as a variety of perfumes and colouring agents, all of which can provoke irritation in sensitive individuals. Other related irritants include dishwasher soap, bubble bath, and body washes. These liquids can get trapped under a band and after a while, the harsh chemicals begin irritating the skin.
  • Sweat: Miliaria arises from obstruction of the sweat ducts. If your band is too tight, your sweat ducts may become blocked. This can be particularly problematic on a humid summer day.

Unfortunately, there is no universal cure. But there are a few things you can do to lower your chances of developing this unpleasant problem.

The solution might be as simple as cleaning your wearable regularly. Trapped moisture and bacteria are the most likely causes of discomfort. After activities where you sweat, or your skin gets wet, clean and completely dry both your wrist and the fitness band before re-wearing. You can also clean your device with a mild soap-free cleanser such as Cetaphil or Aquanil. A dirty band isn’t just bad for your skin, it could interfere with your sensors’ performance.

Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets for 2017

Breathing is good for you and it is good for your skin too, so give your wrist some air. Wear the band loosely enough so that it can move back and forth on your wrist. Take the band off for twenty minutes each day during uninteresting events, like when you are showering. You could even move the band to the other wrist from time to time. 

Because skin irritation can stem from a variety of causes, trial and error are often necessary to find the underlying cause. Irritation from water, sweat, and soap may be responsible for a lot of the rashes. It is also likely that true allergy is responsible in some cases. Best to take all this into consideration when it comes time to pick out your next fitness tracker.

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