Image source: Fitbit

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

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

Essential readingTop 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. Some users developed rashes on their wrists while wearing the device. It 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 users of Garmin, Polar and other brands have complained about rashes, burns and allergic reactions.

Here’s what to do

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

  • 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.

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

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      • 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.
        https://emfacademy.com/fitbit-emf-radiation-what-you-should-know/

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        • I think its the LED’s could it be them?

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        • Yes, Bluetooth, GPS and Wi-fi connections on fitness trackers and smartwatches all function by emitting and receiving radio frequencies (which have electromagnetic properties) which travel through the dermis (skin) and tissue and bone.

          This is why all cellular phones come with manuals that state their SAR value that dictates how much distance to keep the phone from the skin to avoid thermal heating (heat burns). The SAR value is based on how close to the head an adult male can keep the phone during a 6 minute call prior to thermal heating of the surface skin. As a result all cellular phones must be kept several millimeters away from the skin. That is for a 6 minute call. A fitness tracker/smart watch is kept directly and snugly against skin 24/7 usually, and many people keep these devices connected to their smart phones via Bluetooth and/or GPS and/or Wi-fi.

          It is surprising that many don’t make the connection that the direct physical contact would cause the same issues that they are informed of (if they read their phone manual) by the same companies (Samsung, Apple, etc.) to avoid on their cell phone products for the same reason. My recommendation is putting the fitness tracker or smartwatch into flight mode and/or turning off all wireless connectivity except for when absolutely necessary for GPS-required fitness activity recording (and wearing it with a clip a few millimeters off the body and above clothing if heart-rate and oxygen data is not necessary and only distance and altitude data is sought), and for syncing data. Removing the fitness tracker/smart watch for syncing would be recommended.

          Based on my research and testing of various fitness trackers and smart watches, Samsung and Polar smartwatches offer the flight mode function which is the best protection against EMF-based burns. Garmin offers turning off Bluetooth (possibly also turning off flight mode on GPS watches) which will do the job too. Fitbits sadly are designed without the option to turn off connectivity and the Fitbit community has requested they be designed with this option since about 2010 (based on their forum boards) but Fitbit manufacturer refuses to do so for the past 11 years, so it’s the worst offender for burns and rashes. Samsung, Polar and Garmin offer very comprehensive and interesting companion apps that meet and exceed the data offered by Fitbit, so these could be interesting options if one is using a Fitbit device mainly for the companion app data and breakdowns. Wear OS was not tested as part of this study, so fitness tracking smart watches using Wear OS and its health ecosystem of apps may have potential as well.

          For those who are electro-hypersensitive (we all are electrosensitive, all brain and body cells communicate through minute electrical signals which is what we measure using EKGs and EEGs), or those who become hypersensitized due to the constant exposure to radiofrequencies in such close proximity to the body, the only option is a non-Bluetooth or unconnected smart watch. These don’t provide anywhere near the health data of heart monitor-enabled fitness trackers/smart watches, but will provide data on steps, distance, calories and sleep hours, plus some alarms/reminders, the time, and some water resistance (some state upto 5ATM for swimming but I believe (based on consumer reviews of breakdowns) that it’s safer to consider these safe for dishwashing and possibly showering).

          This being said, I have not yet researched the effects of the optical heart-rate monitors or Sp02/V02 detection lights. Obviously, if these use any ultraviolet wavelengths that are involved in burns (the same wavelengths as those that give us sunburns), then very regular to constant (when in continuous heart-rate measurement mode) skin exposure directly under these lights would be a natural cause for UV-based burns (as opposed to RF thermal exposure-based burns).

          Those with lighter skin would be advised to wear sunscreen underneath the fitness tracker/smart watch, however, sunscreen ingredients (water, oils, chemicals, minerals) have not been tested for safety when interacting with any metals, plastics, or radiofrequency sources directly against the skin. So they could cause or aggravate issues for the skin, or for the fitness tracker/smart watch. What we do know is that blocking the visual contact of the optical devices does negatively impact the readings of heart rate, blood oxygen, respiration rate, etc. and could potentially (with a lot of sunscreen or liquid buildup) cause electrical impediments for the charging contacts when they are in contact with electricity while being charged, so companies recommend keeping the skin and fitness tracker/smart watch device back surface clean.

          Keep in mind that the companies never talk about EMF burn/allergy or optical UV burn/allergy causes and always put the responsibility on the consumer for irritations (e.g. not keeping the back of the tracker/watch clean, accumulation of oils and sweat, etc.). The best thing is to inform oneself and only allow the exposures that are absolutely necessary by tweaking the settings and keeping in mind one’s health conditions that could be affected by EMF (e.g. attentional issues, sleep problems) and UV (skin protection needs based on Fitzpatrick skin type, pre-existing conditions or tendencies such as skin allergies or rashes that could be easily triggered or aggravated by EMF or UV).

          Keep in mind also, that nickel sensitivity is very high in North America (around 20% of the population in some test studies), so fitness tracker/smart watch backs and bands need to be manufactured with none of the most common skin irritants/allergens (i.e. nickel, brass, copper). As with high quality jewelry and watches or health devices that worn for the entire day, consumers can demand stainless steel or surgical steel backs or gold-plated backs (given the cost of most smart watches, gold plating won’t actually add much as the watch sales profit margins are already quite high). Nylon and traditional leather seem to be the least frequent offenders and Bisphenol-free and phthalate-free silicones should theoretically also be reaction-free, as long as the frequent rubbing against the skin and skin acidity (which isn’t high compared to acids that actually break down compounds) doesn’t have any way of interacting with any of the band components.

          Hopefully in the future, consumers will be more informed and demand skin-contact level devices with lower to zero EMF output, with options to control the frequency of connectivity (on Bluetooth, Wi-fi and GPS), with more intelligent algorithms for the devices (using greater user inputs if necessary) that require fewer optical sampling data points to reduce the triggering of rashes and UV burns, and with allergen-free watch backs and bands.

          Reply
    • I completely agree with you. I started doing Orange Theory and one day noticed itchy red bumps on my arm only where the lights on the heart rate monitor was placed. I tried switching the location and again it a couple itchy bumps appeared a day later, I love seeing my progress and tracking but definitely not worth the risk of cancer. Thanks for sharing.

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      • I don’t get mine where the sensor is i get it where the band sits on my wrist and cleaning it regularly doesn’t help i have ordered a different strap with different material hopefully this works

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        • Hello. Did it help you change the strap? I also got a rash because of the strap, on the underside of the armrest.

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        • My rash is also on the band part of my Fitbit not where the sensor is. I tried a new band and switching wrists- no luck.

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      • There are no risks of cancer as the light and the rf are both non ionizing meaning they physically cannot alter and break dna

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    • My watch burned me. It was not due to any soap, lotions, or sweat. It is not an allergic reaction. It is a burn. I have had the watch for several years with no issue. I never wore it in the shower, or while doing dishes even though it claims to be waterproof. I cleaned it regularly.
      I was just lying in bed one morning when my wrist started to burn. I yanked off the watch and haven’t worn it since. What remains three days later in a pink burn. I am highly disappointed.

      Reply
  • 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..

    Reply
  • NO MORE WRIST RASH
    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. :^)

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    • My doctor suggested allergic to nickel? I think they have nickel cadmium battery?

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  • 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.

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

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      • Have you been able to continue wearing the HRM or have you had to stop using it? Reading these is giving me doubts in buying one. Forerunner 35, is all that I require and afford.

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    • Same here, triangle shaped red right under where the lights rest. Had mild band rash until changing to a nylon band which resolved that. Not sure a light burn on my skin that may be doing who knows what sort of damage is worth knowing how many steps I am taking.

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    • I have the same from the back of the watch, not from the strap. Only had it a couple of weeks and it was very expensive. I don’t suppose I can get a refund either.

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    • Same here, 3 raised dots! Band has nothing to do with our instance.

      I’m sure some people may be experiencing a rash from the band but that doesn’t mean everyone reporting a rash is experiencing the same thing.

      Reply
    • Both my wrists are marked exactly where the sensors are I’ve been swapping them back and forth…I have clean mine everyday and it’s still causing pain.

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  • 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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    • Hi Chrissy – what was your conclusion? I’ve worn my vivoactive3 24/7 since Feb 2019 without any issues, but all of a sudden am getting rashes around my wrist from the Garmin stock watch band. I’ve tried different steroids and creams and have cleaned my watch band. Once the rash goes away, I try to wear the watch again during and develop a new rash a few hours after (even after removing the watch right after my run).

      Reply
  • Chrissy,
    That is my exact experience. Would love to hear how you are doing now.

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  • Because of burn Mark’s where sensors are located I stop wearing my Vivosmart HR four months ago. The burn Mark’s are still faintly visible. Not good. I’m searching for a fitness tracker with safer features.

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    • I had a fitbit alta hr that I got with a belt clip in addition to the wrist band. It worked really well until I put it through the wash. Manufacturers should develop belt clip alternatives !!

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  • I purchased the galaxy smart watch and a rash developed on my left wrist I dismissed it as probably resulting from an insect bite I move the watch to my other wrist and developed skin irritation in the form of a red bump just like the start of the rash initially. These products health risks need to be researched more extensively.

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  • Fitbit inspire, nasty burn rash under wristband on left wrist after a few weeks. Switch to right wrist after cleaning all again: immediately a new rash. Going for leather….

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  • My rash appears to be around the place where you recharge your watch. I am a bit concerned about what else is going on if I am getting a rash/burn from this what other damage is it doing underneath my skin.

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    • I have a nickel allergy. there are two dots on the amazfit used for charging that is one spot where I get a rash. The other is the metal posts of the silicone wristband. I’m going to try a new wristband. IT IS NOT RF burn the power output is minuscule compared to what is necessary to cause any issues. Readjust the tinfoil hats.

      Reply
  • I know I have “sensitive” skin, always have. I love my Fitbits. I’ve been wearing one since they’ve come out. My most recent one is a Charge 3 but I had to take it off due to rash where the back and the buckle touch my skin. I’m pretty sure this is a nickel allergy (I’ve been tested). I’ve now lost it (literally). I’ve tried to find it using methods described on line. My question is, “what tracker should I get now that would have the least chance of causing a nickel rash??”

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  • I have Suunto Spartan Trainer for about six months, and now, with warm weather, skin sweating more, and watch sticking more onto my skin, my nickel allergy broke out. I’ve concluded that charging connectors contain nickel, but it wasn’t obvious until now because they are placed inside an indent on the back side of the watch and didn’t get into too much contact with skin. Occasional scratching did happen during winter also, but I’ve been ignoring it, because I didn’t expect that piece of *** metal to be part of something that expensive. This time I wanted to chew my hand off, and my skin was scratched to the blood. For the prices those smart watch manufacturers charge, they could put in silver or gold or whatever…

    Reply
  • Thomson Activa Smart Watch from Australia Post. Same problem. What looks like a burn mark surrounded by red skin appeared after a couple of weeks under the green light. Switched wrist and the mark started to appear there too.

    Stopped wearing it and the ‘burn’ mark and red surrounds are still there weeks later. No sure how to get rid of them?

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    • My marks also lasted for weeks. They are actually scar tissue, because of scratching through to the blood (luckily, not too deep, so they are not visible anymore). What works for me, besides not wearing that stupid watch anymore, when that allergy rash breaks out, are some soothing creams that are described as “soothing and repairing”, bought at pharmacy or specialized drugstores (in my country they are sold there, not in supermarket, don’t know what it’s like in your country), from manufacturers/brands that use thermal water, mostly French brands. I’m not naming them, because I don’t know if I’m allowed to. Good luck, hope this helps!

      Reply
  • I got my daughter a fitbit. Within a few hours it started to burn her skin, started with a rash then started to burn. Was very worried.

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  • Someone who is allergic to Nickel suggested to me to try painting the back if the watch with clear nail polish to prevent the nickel directly co tasting the skin. She says it works for her when she wears cheap jewellery. What do people think – will this effect the function of the watch?

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  • My Fitbit flared up my nickel allergy. The metal lugs where the band connects to the watch obviously contain nickel. That’s where I got contact dermatitis.

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  • I had a Fitbit Versa that I had to get rid of because of a skin reaction only where the sensor was in contact with my wrist. Would I have this same problem with any smart watch? I’m considering an Apple Watch since I now have an iPhone, but I don’t want to invest in one if it will cause the same problem.

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  • I developed a rash using my amazfit bip. I solved my issue by placing a cutout piece of folded tissue between my watch and my arm. I tighten my watch band just enough so that the tissue does not show or fall from underneath. It provides a perfect barrier. I will try a small piece of paper towel next but for now, no problems. My sensors still work perfectly.

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  • I bought a Samsung Galaxy Watch Active a year and a half back. Few days after wearing it with the silicone band it came with, I had a rash on the palm side of the wrist. Switched to a leather band, and a year and a half of rash free wearing (even to sleep). Switched to an Apple Watch recently, and got the rash again in a couple of weeks with the silicone band. Switching to leather again, and likely will be rash free. I have never had a rash on the watch side due to sensors.

    Reply

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