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 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, pictured on the right. 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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24 thoughts on “How to avoid getting a rash from your fitness tracker or smartwatch

  • August 9, 2018 at 9:49 pm
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    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.

    Reply
    • August 10, 2018 at 8:38 pm
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      I got my tin-foil hat, I should be good.

      Reply
      • December 10, 2018 at 5:14 pm
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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/

        Reply
    • January 18, 2020 at 6:48 am
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      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.

      Reply
      • January 19, 2020 at 9:02 pm
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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

        Reply
        • March 19, 2020 at 8:19 pm
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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.

          Reply
        • April 26, 2020 at 4:41 am
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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.

          Reply
    • June 18, 2020 at 1:48 pm
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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
  • December 10, 2018 at 10:42 pm
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    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
  • February 14, 2019 at 10:39 pm
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    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. :^)

    Reply
  • April 3, 2019 at 3:53 am
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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
    • April 28, 2019 at 6:03 pm
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      same problem for me. small round burn mark from place where sensors are located.

      Reply
      • June 4, 2019 at 5:53 pm
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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.

        Reply
    • December 25, 2019 at 4:11 pm
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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.

      Reply
  • May 6, 2019 at 5:45 pm
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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.

    Reply
    • October 3, 2019 at 7:17 pm
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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
  • July 22, 2019 at 2:41 am
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    Chrissy,
    That is my exact experience. Would love to hear how you are doing now.

    Reply
  • July 28, 2019 at 2:43 pm
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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.

    Reply
    • August 29, 2019 at 8:49 pm
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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 !!

      Reply
  • August 11, 2019 at 3:08 pm
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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.

    Reply
  • October 17, 2019 at 1:23 pm
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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….

    Reply
  • December 19, 2019 at 5:39 am
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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.

    Reply
  • June 1, 2020 at 4:16 pm
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    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??”

    Reply
  • July 1, 2020 at 6:26 pm
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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

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