Between Christmas and the New Year, lots of Americans strapped on a shiny new Fitbit Force and started to scamper around. It’s the newest iteration of the motion-tracking device, a wristband that records steps, altitude, and how much you move around while you sleep. Now many of them have taken off their wristbands, reporting a weird skin irritation near the charging port.
(Warning: there are large, mildly gross wrist rash photos in this post.)
Reader Kevin was one of these people. He was an early adopter of the new device, starting to wear it in mid-November and noticing a problem at the end of December. He writes that it started with “a red blotch under the device where the battery and charging port sits.” It grew over time. He swapped which wrist he wore the band on: a red spot began to grow there, too.
He sought medical attention, and the nurse practitioner diagnosed the spot as contact dermatitis. When the spot eventually blistered and scabbed over, it became infected. He believes that he may be left with a permanent scar.
It would be easy to write Kevin off as one guy with a weird allergy if he were the only one with this problem, but he’s not. There’s an entire thread on Fitbit’s forums (login required) dedicated to the issue. The thread is a veritable parade of rash photos.
Here’s the progression of Kevin’s wrist:
Fitbit’s solution is to simply exchange the Force for one of their other devices. They admitted in a statement to Consumerist that some customers are having problems: “we already have been taking steps to make this right with any customers who feel that they have an allergy related to their Fitbit device.” Those steps include issuing a refund or exchanging the tracker for a different one. The company points to possible material sensitivity to the charging port or battery metal, allergy to the elastomer material, or bacteria caught in the charging port as the cause of customers’ skin irritation.
They aren’t about to admit a problem with the device, and we don’t know what proportion of customers have reported contact dermatitis or other skin problems on their wrists.
One customer solved the problem on a black wristband by covering the metal bits with electrical tape. Yes, because Fitbit customers are paying $130, plus any applicable sales tax, for a device that they have to tape up in order to avoid a big ugly rash.
“I really wanted to buy into the Fitbit ecosystem and I loved the device — before the injury,” writes Kevin. “Considering I have medical expenses resulting from treatment, and the fact that healing is slow-going and may scar me, Fitbit has done nothing to show me that they care for their customers’ loyalty.”
Here’s the full statement from Fitbit:
We are aware that some of our customers have reported a skin irritation from wearing their Force device. We conduct testing in order to satisfy a variety of internationally accepted standards relating to the safety of the materials in our devices. Fitbit wristbands are made of an elastomer material similar to many sports watches and do not contain latex. The Fitbit Force clasps and casing are made with a surgical-grade stainless steel, which is commonly used in watches, jewelry and other products in contact with the skin.
As with any jewelry or watch, numerous factors could cause a skin irritation, such as nickel sensitivity (surgical stainless steel is an alloy containing traces of nickel), reactions to bacteria that can accumulate in wristbands, or a sensitivity to the material of the band elastomer.
However, our customers are our top priority, so we already have been taking steps to make this right with any customers who feel that they have an allergy related to their Fitbit device including offering a refund or a choice of a replacement tracker. Fitbit will handle all shipping costs and will provide a refund in any difference in price.