Image source: Fitbit

How to avoid getting a rash from your fitness tracker or smartwatch

how to avoid getting a rash from your fitness tracker - How to avoid getting a rash from your fitness tracker or smartwatch
Image source: Fitbit

There is a realistic possiblity you may develop a rash from wearing your fitness tracker or smartwatch, a fact some manufacturers tend to gloss over.

Essential reading: Top fitness trackers and health gadgets

A 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, its also worth giving some consideration to the skin sensitivity of wrists.

Fitbit made the news back in 2014 with the recall of its Force wearable fitness tracker, pictured on the right. 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 Garmin, Polar and other users have complained about rashes, burns and allergic 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: Manufacturers have an important part to play. Its best to choose soft, durable plastics with perforated grids to improve breathability. 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.

how to avoid getting a rash from your fitness tracker or smartwatch - How to avoid getting a rash from your fitness tracker or smartwatch
Image source: Fitbit

Breathing is good for you and it is good for your skin too, so give your wrist some air. You don’t really need to wear your fitness tracker or smartwatch 24/7, 365 days per year! Reward your skin with some wearable holiday time!

Wear the band loosely enough so that it can move back and forth on your wrist. The other option is to loosen it when you are not working out and then tighten it when, for example, going for a run. Also, take the band off for twenty minutes each day during uninteresting events, such as when you are showering. Sure you’ll miss off a few steps, but your wrists will thank you for it.

You could even move the band from one wrist to the other wrist from time to time. However, if you do this for longer periods you might need to tweak the settings in the accompanying smartphone app to indicate whether you are wearing it on your dominant or non-dominant hand.

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 is probably responsible for most rashes. So just make sure you take some time regularly to check that both your wrist and the fitness tracker are clean. 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 wearable device.

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8 thoughts on “How to avoid getting a rash from your fitness tracker or smartwatch

  • August 9, 2018 at 9:49 pm

    Your guesses to the cause of the rash is completely wrong.

    It is an RF burn from the watch transmitting signals, often bluetooth. If enough to burn, it may be dangerous, may be cancer causing.

    I got my vivoactive to stop burning me by turning off the bluetooth connection that was continuously trying to connect to a chest strap.

    • August 10, 2018 at 8:38 pm

      I got my tin-foil hat, I should be good.

      • December 10, 2018 at 5:14 pm

        Don’t be so sarcastic, it is indeed RF burns. Any fitness tracker that uses Bluetooth for syncing will burn you, and not just your skin. I have had to stop using mine even though I had turned off continuous syncing and even manual syncing was burning my wrist. All the manufacturers are in denial about this problem and will just keep bouncing back the wear and care instructions to you. Cleaning my tracker and strap twice a day with a non-soap cleaner, wearing it loosely and taking a break from it was not enough to stop the rashes on my wrists (I would swap the tracker from wrist to wrist regularly). And it is not an allergy, as I could wait until the tracker was out of power and wear it with no new rashes appearing.

  • December 10, 2018 at 10:42 pm

    Really, it’s definitely RF burns? Why then when I switched from my silicon strap to a leather one I have no issues? Everyone’s got the answer..

  • February 14, 2019 at 10:39 pm

    I got a bad rash using Garmin Forerunner 235 after wearing it for a few days. I have no known allergies. Problem solved with new woven nylon watch band from Moko (at Amazon). More comfortable. Reasonable price. I can now wear my Garmin 24/7. :^)

  • April 3, 2019 at 3:53 am

    My rash started as 3 raised dots where the green sensor lights are. Nothing to do with the band. I tried moving the watch further back on my arm, and got the same rash there.

    • April 28, 2019 at 6:03 pm

      same problem for me. small round burn mark from place where sensors are located.

  • May 6, 2019 at 5:45 pm

    I have a myriad of skin issues – mostly eczema – and have all my life. After wearing my vivofit for three years and once I removed a very thin layer of plastic that was peeling off the interior I started to get a very weird circular patch on my wrist. It doesn’t burn or itch. I have removed the device for about 3 weeks now and the patch has not improved. No amount of moisturizer or medicated ointment seems to help. Not sure what this is – and like I said – I’ve seen a lot of different skin issues.


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