As the Apple Watch finally becomes more available, so too do reports of users who may suffer from skin reactions to the materials used in the bands. A small number of buyers
have posted to Twitter and other services to show skin rashes they say are caused by the bands, a not-uncommon complaint among users of any sort of watch. Thus far, the reports focus on sensitivities to the bands more than the Watch itself, which does contain a warning about the use of nickel in the device.
Nickel sensitivity is a rare allergy, and has been previously seen in some iPad users
due to the use of the material in the tablet's metal mixture. It can cause skin irritations and make the user uncomfortable, but is easily avoided by using Apple's Smart Case or similar full-body enclosure that separates the users from the metal back portion.
The new complaints seen about the Apple Watch, however appear to focus on sensitivities to the bands rather than the device. Microsoft employee Paul Fabretti, for example, posted Instagram pictures of red sores on his wrist caused by the white Sport band on his Apple Watch -- to which one wag replied "Apple software has never gone well with Microsoft hardware," while other commenters encouraged Fabretti to exchange the band for a leather one.
Apple does carry a warning on its website that "a small number of people will experience reactions to certain materials" used in the Watch straps. In addition to the nickel used in the Watch itself, "the Apple Watch case, the Milanese Loop, the Modern Buckle, and the Leather Loop each contain trace amounts of methacrylates from adhesives," the company warns. Another potential cause for skin irritation from watch straps (not limited to the Apple Watch) can come from wearing the band too tightly, or not keeping it clean. While these reactions are rare, irritations could help users and doctors discover previously-unknown allergies such as the nickel sensitivity.
"A great deal of care and research go into choosing materials for all our devices," notes Apple, but a few customers will see reactions that "can be due to allergies, environmental factors, extended exposure to irritants like soap or sweat, and other causes." Some of the straps also contain nickel, however the quantity used falls "below the strict European REACh regulation. Therefore, nickel exposure is unlikely to be a problem," and that "methacrylates are found in many consumer products that come in contact with the skin, such as adhesive bandages." However, Apple Watch and its bands are designed so that parts containing methacrylates are not in direct contact with your skin."
The company also notes that bands that are set too loose can cause rubbing, which can produce irritation similar to what is seen in Fabretti's photo. the company recommends a "snug" fit so that the heart-rate sensors and other parts of the device can produce accurate readings.
Fitbit, which makes a sports and fitness tracker that had similar complaints
, recalled the devices in November of 2013 after similar reports of rashes and irritations. The company said that the contact dermatitis was likely caused by "reactions to bacteria that can accumulate in wristbands, or a sensitivity to the material of the band elastomer," and replaced the bands of those affected with one of a different material. Likewise, customers experiencing irritation with a given Apple Watch band may wish to change it out for a different band, such as leather, or a third-party band.
It has been estimated that Apple has sold around five million of the devices since its initial availability, though any sales reports are highly speculative at this point. Word-of-mouth reports on its functionality and performance have generally been very strong, with two MacNN
staffers saying that the device has become nearly indispensable in allowing them to shift focus away from the iPhone and handle notifications more selectively, to say nothing of the benefits of the gentle fitness reminders and other health aspects of the device.