Image source: Fitbit

Hidden dangers of smartwatches: Study reveals shocking bacterial presence

Your smartwatch tells time, measures your heart rate, and keeps you connected. But a 2023 study suggests it might be doing something more – it might be harbouring dangerous bacteria. This is something smartwatch and fitness tracker owners should take note of.

The study at a glance

The groundbreaking research was conducted by a team of microbiologists from the University of California, Berkeley, spearheaded by Dr. Lydia Rosenstein. Over a span of six months, the team meticulously collected samples from 500 wristbands worn by individuals across various age groups, lifestyles, and climates.

Using swabs to collect microbial samples from the surfaces of these wearables, the specimens were then cultured in lab conditions optimized for bacterial growth. Once bacterial colonies were established, advanced molecular techniques and sequencing were employed to identify the specific types of bacteria present. The study’s meticulousness was amplified with controls such as ensuring participants didn’t disinfect their wearables for a week prior to sampling and accounting for potential external contaminations.

So what do the findings show?

Researchers found bacteria on 95% of wristbands tested. And it wasn’t just the harmless kind. Various bacteria on the wearables were identified, including Staphylococcus aureus, known to cause skin infections, and Corynebacterium, commonly associated with unpleasant odour. Additionally, traces of Micrococcus, which can lead to various skin issues, were also present. These bacteria thrive in moist environments and can multiply rapidly if given the right conditions.

Why smartwatch users should worry

For Garmin, Apple Watch Fitbit and other wearable tech owners, there’s cause for concern. But you are not powerless. As with most things, awareness is the first defence.

The study identified that the type of material from which the band is made matters significantly. So, when purchasing a new smartwatch or contemplating a wristband change, it’s prudent to ponder over the material and gauge its ease of cleaning and disinfection. Most wearables these days allow you to switch straps around. The study highlighted rubber and plastic bands, in particular, as the biggest culprits with the highest contamination levels.

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

Moreover, the wearer’s daily activities, whether swimming, exercising, or merely wearing it throughout the day, played a pivotal role in bacterial buildup. If wristbands aren’t regularly cleaned, the wearer is inadvertently at risk.

Taking action is paramount. Cleaning shouldn’t be reserved for when the wristband starts to emit an odor or feels grimy. It should be a part of the user’s regular routine. Use a mild, soap-free cleanser like Cetaphil or Aquanil, or even just water and a soft cotton cloth. You might want to do this whenever you take a shower or a bath.

On every wristband material tested by researchers, all disinfectants were effective. Lysol Disinfectant Spray, 70% Ethanol, and Heinz Apple Cider Vinegar eliminated bacteria within 30 seconds, except on plastic wristbands. For plastic, it took 120 seconds to achieve the same bacterial elimination.

The 2023 bacterial study revolving around wristbands is revelatory. The focus isn’t solely on tracking fitness or ensuring seamless connectivity anymore. Wearable tech hygiene has taken center stage. It underscores the importance of health and the necessity to ensure that the piece of tech wrapped around the wrist doesn’t metamorphose into a health hazard.

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Marko Maslakovic

Marko founded Gadgets & Wearables in 2014, having worked for more than 15 years in the City of London’s financial district. Since then, he has led the company’s charge to become a leading information source on health and fitness gadgets and wearables.

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