A couple of months ago I noticed a rash on my wrist, under my Apple Watch. I didn’t put a lot of thought into it at first, made sure to clean the strap and back of the watch. Figured it was just from lack of skin breathing under the sport band, on a hot day, after a workout.
But the rash didn’t go away, it actually got worse, and it seemed to be localized to one spot on the back of my wrist, right where the metal clasp of the sports band rubbed by arm.
And it was getting painful.
My wife was the first to suggest that it looked like a nickel allergy. At first this seemed strange, why would Apple put nickel in the band? Everyone knows that can cause issues. So I did a little research.
The stainless steel in the Apple Watch and in the bands, is grade 316L, per Apple’s own site. It’s incredibly common in jewelry, medical implants, and other places where contact with the human body is a thing. It’s also easier to machine than other grades of stainless steel. But it has nickel in it. According to AZO Materials, about 10–14% of the composite is within spec for 316L.
Still, I’ve worn watches forever, and ever since I was a teenager they’ve all been watches with metal bands. Apple Watch was the first watch in probably 18 years that had a band made out of plastic. (Sorry, fluoroelastomer.) I started thinking back, and when I was about 15, I had a similar reaction on the top of my wrist that a doctor told me was because of the nickel in the back of a cheap watch, but I ditched the watch and it was never an issue again.
My wife suggested that I apply some nail polish to the back of the watch clasp to create a barrier between my skin and the watch. This didn’t last very long, within a day the polish had separated from the metal and stuck to my skin. I started to wear a bandage with some hydrocortisone cream on the irritation, under my watch. But this all seemed silly.
So, I called Apple.
The first person I spoke with instantly transferred me to a specialist the second I mentioned a rash and Apple Watch. They weren’t going to mess around. Tom took my case, and started to ask me a lot of questions about my usage of the watch, how often I wear it, what bands I use, if I shower with it, work out with it, how often do I clean it, etc. Then he started to ask medical questions like if I had asthma, allergies, other issues with jewelry, rashes on other areas, etc. And then questions about the rash specifically, what I was doing about it, what it looked like, did it hurt, was it raised, when did it appear.
The initial call took about an hour, and at the end he had me send 8 pictures of my wrist. Four with the watch on from all angles, and four without the watch on, including a closeup of the rash. Eventually he let me know that this would have to be escalated to engineering and that he’d give me a call once he heard back. It was the Saturday before the big fall announcement, so I didn’t expect anything back for a while. I was told to stop wearing the watch to see if the rash cleared up. Eventually I put the watch back on with a barrier and continued my hydrocortisone treatments. The rash went away.
That Thursday, Tom called, and after discussing the current status of the rash, advised me to try wearing the watch again to see if it returned. So I did, and it did.
Tom called back a few days later, and I let him know the rash had returned. He asked for more pictures, the same as before, which I sent over, and he said he’d call back in a couple of days once the case had been reviewed again.
Eventually, Tom called back and said that after reviewing the case Apple had determined that it was indeed a nickel allergy, and they’d be willing to process a return for the Watch. He also suggested trying an alternative band. I quickly told him I wasn’t interested in returning the watch, because despite the fact it’s slowly trying to kill me, I love it. I asked if under the circumstances I could get a discount or trade-in on another band, he said he’d find out and called back a little later with another woman from the customer support team.
She asked me what band I would be interested in, color, size, and then asked for my shipping address. She initially said she would call back the next day with more information but then about an hour later I got an email from Apple that they were sending me out a new medium black Leather Loop, at a $0 charge.
It arrives today.
For those of you who keep track, I’ve actually had the leather loop before, for about 18 hours. I bought it on an impulse. Twice, actually. The first time I ordered it with the watch before it shipped, but then cancelled it to give the sports band a proper evaluation. The second time, was in the store, but I had buyers remorse at the $150 price tag. (More accurately, I decided it wasn’t worth trying to justify to the wife.)
For now, I’m still sporting bandages under my watch, to clear up the second coming of the rash. My next problem is figuring out what to do about the fact that the leather band isn’t appropriate for working out in.
My other issue is that a week before I learned all this, I backed a Kickstarter for a stainless steel band to match the space grey aluminum watch. It’s made of 316L.