The Fitbit rash first made headlines back in 2014. There was a nationwide recall of the Force wearable fitness tracker after some users developed rashes on their wrists. Today, many consumers continue to report rashes with the latest Fitbit line of fitness trackers and wearables. Most of these problems have been widely documented on forums, message boards, and social media.
Here, I’ll explain what causes the Fitbit rash and what you can do to manage the condition.
What Exactly Causes Fitbit Skin Irritation?
The rash most people develop from wearing a Fitbit watch is a form of eczema known as contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis is a common skin condition that develops when a person’s skin is in contact with an allergen or irritant.
Irritant Contact Dermatitis
This form of dermatitis is the most common and is a result of the skin being directly injured by chemicals, environmental agents, or friction. It occurs when an irritant damages the surface of the skin quicker than the skin can repair itself. Irritants penetrate the skin when its protective barrier is dry and fragile. They then cause inflammation in the deeper skin layers.
Irritants that are most likely to elicit a skin reaction are:
- Fertilizers and,
- Rubbing alcohol
As this relates to Fitbit, rashes may appear from soap becoming trapped between the wrist and watch strap. If this happens frequently, skin irritation is very likely to occur. Keep in mind that the area where the watch is worn is a place where perfume is sprayed, a lotion is put on, and more. Contact dermatitis can happen anytime there is constant friction, pressure, and sweat between the skin and another item.
Allergic Contact Dermatitis
If the skin is in contact with a substance and has an immune reaction, such as a rash, then it’s likely allergic contact dermatitis. Some people are hypersensitive to certain materials, whereas others could be in contact with the same material and experience no issues.
For people with an allergy, the body recognizes the substance as foreign material and releases cytokines. The cytokines activate the immune system and cause dermatitis 48-72 hours after being exposed to the allergen.
Common allergens include:
- Personal care products
- Plants – poison ivy
- Ragweed pollen
- Antibiotic creams and
The Fitbit rash may be an allergic response to allergens present in the materials of the watch itself. Some of those materials include leather dyes, metals, and rubber accelerators. Exposure to any of these materials can cause a rash to appear on a person’s wrist if they’re more sensitive to the substance. However, nickel is the most likely culprit.
An Unknown Nickel Allergy
Nickel, which is a metal found in several fitness trackers, may cause eczema flare-ups. Many patients are not aware that they have a nickel allergy until they’ve had long-term or multiple exposures to the substance.
One way to determine if nickel is the culprit behind a rash is by undergoing a dimethylglyoxime test. If the dye turns pink, then that means nickel is present in the skin. A patch test can also help prove that a patient has nickel sensitivity. If the patch test result of a patient with a rash is negative, then we continue to investigate other possible causes of the allergic reaction.
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Force users may notice the following symptoms when they wear the fitness tracker:
- Burn-like sensation or reaction
- Bumps or blisters
- A red, itchy rash and,
- Scaly skin
They won’t find the same skin changes in areas that were not in contact with the offending agent, which is the Fitbit product in this case. If mild enough, the rash will go away on its own by simply removing the device. Over-the-counter topical steroids help relieve the symptoms quickly.
However, in individuals with sensitive skin, the rash can still spread even after removing the Fitbit device. When that happens, we typically advise patients to book an appointment at our clinic. Patients with a history of severe allergies may experience other symptoms like dizziness and difficulty of breathing. They should seek medical attention immediately when that happens.
What Fitbit Says You Should Do if You Get a Rash
If you develop a rash, Fitbit recommends removing the device from your wrist for several days to see if the rash disappears. However, if wearers decide to put the watch back on, the rash will likely return. For this reason, it would be best to treat the rash outright rather than have it come and go with Fitbit use.
How to Prevent And Heal a Fitbit Rash
There are several actions you can take to prevent or treat a Fitbit flareup. I recommend the measures below:
#1 Keep Your Fitbit Clean
The best solution is to clean your device regularly, especially the watch band. Bacteria and trapped sweat are common causes of rashes. Thoroughly cleaning and drying your Fitbit after sweating can keep your skin from developing an irritating rash.
#2 Loosen and Remove Your Fitbit Band Often
Wear the fitness tracker as loosely as possible. It should be able to move back and forth comfortably on your wrist. In addition, consider removing your band for twenty minutes each day. You can also switch your tracker from one wrist to another every so often.
#3 Strengthen Your Moisture Barrier
One of the most important steps you can take to prevent and treat a Fitbit rash is protecting your skin’s moisture barrier. The stratum corneum, which is the outermost layer of the epidermis, keeps moisture in and bad bacteria out. Look for moisturizers that include lipids, glycerine, and ceramides. These active ingredients are vital to maintaining skin barrier integrity.
#4 Relieve Itching
Skin inflammation and itchiness can occur if you’re wearing a Fitbit and debris and sweat get underneath the wristband. Scratching your skin damages the skin barrier and makes you susceptible to infection. Hydrocortisone cream is a popular over-the-counter product for reducing itching and inflammation.
Calamine lotion is another popular medication used to relieve itching and minor skin irritations. Consider putting this on before wearing your fitness watch.
#5 Use a Skin Diary to Track Symptoms
If you have a history of recurrent dermatitis flare-ups, documenting their occurrence can help determine their cause. Write down your symptoms, the products that possibly triggered the irritation, and your skin’s response to treatment attempts.
Some patients describe the sensation on the rash as burn-like, while others experience severe itchiness. A burning sensation is indicative of irritant contact dermatitis. Itchiness is usually of allergic origin.
Bring your skin diary with you to your consultation to help us properly diagnose and treat your skin condition.
#5 Visit a Dermatologist
A board-certified dermatologist is the best medical professional to identify and treat contact dermatitis. The condition is often easy to diagnose, but a bona fide skin care expert can ensure to rule out other possible causes and determine if the rash is infected. They can perform a patch test, among others, to identify a patient’s various possible dermatitis triggers.
Possible Treatments for Fitbit Skin Irritation
During a dermatologist consult for contact dermatitis, the first order of business is to make sure that the trigger is accurately identified and that other possible causes have been ruled out. Topical corticosteroids are the first line of therapy, given for 2-3 weeks. Cool compresses, calamine lotion, and colloidal oatmeal baths help relieve the discomfort.
As in other contact dermatitis cases, Fitbit rashes can be infected by bacteria or fungi. Patients must consult a medical professional right away if they notice pus on the affected site or develop a fever. Antimicrobials are prescribed along with steroid therapy for these patients.
Rarely, allergy-prone individuals may experience shortness of breath, dizziness and other symptoms of severe hypersensitivity, which is a medical emergency. Patients must seek medical attention immediately when they have such symptoms.
If you have contracted a skin rash and are an avid Fitbit user in Los Angeles, connect with us here at BHSkin Dermatology. Our team of board-certified dermatologists will closely monitor any skin condition caused by the wearable device and help you find a solution.
Book a BHSkin Dermatology Consultation in Glendale or Encino
If you still have questions about the Fitbit rash, simply book an appointment with a skin doctor at BHSkin Dermatology. Our top priority is to help patients find the right treatment option so they can feel and look good in the skin they’re in.
Read what Kathleen R. says about her experience at our clinic:
“It’s the best medical office experience I’ve ever had. Dr. Mehrabi takes the time to listen to you and answer any questions you may have about medical causes and treatments. He seems to genuinely care about his patients. So far, my acne and skin rashes have improved with the treatments.”
Look and feel your best. The decision is in your hands!
- Kim, S. (2014, February 21). Fitbit Recalls ‘Force’ Wristband in Rash Move. ABC News. Retrieved on October 5, 2023, from https://abcnews.go.com/blogs/business/2014/02/fitbit-recalls-force-wristband-in-rash-move#
- Nedorost, S. T. (2019). Irritant Dermatitis. Fizpatrick’s Dermatology. (9th ed.). Retrieved on October 5, 2023, from https://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com/content.aspx?bookid=2570§ionid=210417410
- Thyssen, J. P. et al. (2010, April 23). Sensitivity and specificity of the nickel spot (dimethylglyoxime) test. Contact Dermatitis. 62(5). 279-288. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0536.2010.01709.x
- Turrentine, J. E. et al. (2019). Allergic Contact Dermatitis. Fizpatrick’s Dermatology. (9th ed.). Retrieved on October 5, 2023, from https://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com/content.aspx?bookid=2570§ionid=210417275
- Usatine, R. P. and Riojas, M. (2010). Diagnosis and Management of Contact Dermatitis. American Family Physician. 82(3). 249-255. https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2010/0801/p249.html?sf9714540=1
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