Fitbit Force causing allergic reactions for some users

It appears that some users are experiencing compatibility issues with the a Fitbit Force activity tracker (see disclosure), in the form of an allergic reaction. Reports of skin irritation have been popping up in various places online, on television, and even on Fitbit’s own forums. Fitbit has acknowledged the problem and is offering a refund or replacement device for affected users.

The Consumerist tells the story of its reader Kevin, who began to notice irritation after wearing the Fitbit Force for over a month. He took photos of the rash over time (you can see them over on Consumerist, but be warned, they’re kind of gross), before ultimately seeking medical attention. He was told he had contact dermatitis, which, according to Mayo Clinic, is “a kind of skin inflammation that occurs when substances touching your skin cause irritation or an allergic reaction.”

Kevin’s case isn’t the only one. ABC News reported on a number of other users that have had an allergic reaction after wearing the band. To its credit, Fitbit quickly addressed the problem, releasing the following statement:

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.

Fitbit does have other trackers, like the One and the Zip, that can be attached to your clothing, which should help avoid this problem. For what it’s worth, I’ve been wearing a Fitbit Force for over a month now, and I haven’t experienced any irritation. There are some exposed metal bits on the back of the band, where it touches your wrist, so I wonder if Fitbit can just cover this with more rubber for future models. And it looks like this might happen. Fitbit just sent me an updated statement:

We are looking into reports from a very limited number of Fitbit Force users who have been experiencing skin irritation, possibly as a result of an allergy to nickel, an element of surgical-grade stainless steel used in the device.

We suggest that consumers experiencing any irritation discontinue using the product and contact Fitbit at [email protected] if they have additional questions. Customers may also contact Fitbit for an immediate refund or replacement with a different Fitbit product.

We are sorry that even a few consumers have experienced these problems and assure you that we are looking at ways to modify the product so that anyone can wear the Fitbit Force comfortably. We will continue to update our customers with the latest information.

Potential allergic reaction aside, I still think the Force is one of the best activity trackers available. But if you’re the type with sensitive skin (especially to nickel), you might want to steer clear. And if you’ve been wearing one, and you’ve noticed any sort of irritation, you might want to think about contacting Fitbit.

Disclosure: Fitbit is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.

This post was updated at 1:50pm with an additional statement from Fitbit.