Fitness trackers come in all shapes and sizes, and with a broad range of features and prices to match. Most are worn on the wrist, but increasingly there are options for the finger or chest. These have the potential to be more comfortable – especially in hot summer weather, or if you find wrist-worn devices cause skin irritation.
Here are some of the best devices to track your fitness — but without causing discomfort for those with more sensitive skin.
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Can wearables cause skin irritation?
The short answer here is yes, but only for a small minority of people with dry or sensitive skin. Thankfully, even if that's you there are plenty of ways to help mitigate any problems wearable fitness trackers and smartwatches might cause you.
To start with, wearable manufacturers have published guidance with regard to potential skin irritation with their wearables.
Apple states that some external components of its Watch contain nickel, which some people are allergic to. Some Apple Watch straps also contain trace amounts of acrylates and methacrylates from adhesives, to which some people are sensitive. However, the Watch is designed so that parts containing those chemicals are not in contact with the wearer's skin. Apple also states that wearing the Watch too tight can cause skin irritation, and too loose can cause discomfort from rubbing against the wrist.
Samsung also warns of that final point on its website, and reminds users to dry their smartwatch strap before wearing. Samsung states: "If skin irritation is experienced while wearing the smart watch, stop wearing it and wait two to three days for symptoms to ease. If symptoms persist or worsen, consult a physician."
Fitbit responded back in 2015 to claims of the 'Fitbit Rash', where the then-new trackers causes skin irritation with some users. The company said any rashes "are likely from wearing the band too tight; sweat, water, or soap being against the skin under the device; or from pressure or friction against the skin." As with smartwatches, keeping your Fitbit clean and not too tight can prevent irritation in most cases.
Smartwatches by Apple and Samsung both offer a string suite of health and fitness tracking features, but for the rest of this article we have gathered up a range of trackers that do things slightly differently – and which we hope will be comfortable, even for readers with sensitive skin.
Next, here are some fitness trackers to consider:
How to stop a fitness tracker irritating your skiniStock
Before you decide that a wrist-worn tracker simply isn't for you, there are some steps you can take to help combat any irritation you may be suffering from.
For starters, you shouldn't be aiming to wear the tracker 24 hours a day. Even if the battery life means you can, you should try to take it off for a little while each day; perhaps when you shower, or at night if sleep tracking isn't a priority.
You should also ensure the fitness tracker (or smartwatch) stays clean, as irritation is often caused by dirt gathered between your skin and the device.
Smartwatch maker TicWatch conducted a study in 2019 that found fitness trackers can be eight times dirtier than a toilet seat and flush handle, with plastic and leather straps carrying more dirt than metal ones. Therefore, regularly cleaning of your wearable is of utmost importance, regardless of any underlying skin conditions or sensitivity.
Thankfully, almost all modern fitness trackers and smartwatches are water resistant to some degree, so you should give yours a good clean every so often, but make sure you use a soap that you know doesn't irritate your skin.
On that note, washing your hands too often can dry the skin out and lead to irritation, so you'll want to strike a balance here and see what works best for your own skin.
If your irritation gets worse during the summer, try loosening the wearable slightly when exercising. The heart rate tracker will still work fine, but hopefully there will be less friction between the device and your wrist. Remember, your wrists will swell slightly when exercising – or even just when it's warm – so you should adjust the strap accordingly.
Finally, some fitness trackers (and quite a few smartwatches, too) have interchangeable straps. If you find a certain material is causing you problems, you could swap out the strap for an alternative made from something different. Some smartwatch accept industry-standard straps, and there's a huge range of third-party options for the Apple Watch.
Garmin Vivosmart 4
The Vivosmart 4 by Garmin strikes a good balance between size and feature set. It's a fairly compact device, yet offers a wide range of features that place it somewhere between a fitness tracker and a smartwatch.
There's step, exercise, swim and sleep tracking, plus stress monitoring, a guided breathing app, and VO2 max estimate. The Vivosmart 4 can also alert you to incoming calls, texts and other notifications on your phone, and the battery will last up to seven days depending on how you use it.
The rubber strap is smooth on both sides, which should help prevent dirt building up on the inside and causing irritation. It can also be adjusted just like a regular watch strap, so can easily be slackened by a notch or two when your arms swell slightly during exercise.
Fitbit Charge 3 - $100
Fitbit Charge 3Fitbit
Although it's now a couple of years old, the Fitbit Charge 3 is still a strong option for a do-everything fitness tracker. The Charge 3 has a small monochrome display for showing you information at a glance, plus there's a heart rate tracker on the back, waterproofing to 50 meters, and the battery lasts six days.
It works with both iOS and Android, and although it doesn't have GPS of its own, the Charge 3 can hook up to your phone and use its locational data instead, so your outdoor runs will be accurate.
As well as fitness and everyday activity tracking, the circa-$100 wearable also tracks your sleep every night, and all data is sent to the companion smartphone app for logging and analysis.
Like the Garmin Vivosport, skin irritation can be kept to a minimum by keeping the strap and your skin as clean as possible, and not wearing the tracker too tight or too loose.
Moov Now exercise tracker
The Moov Now is a dedicated fitness tracker, meaning it has no display or smartwatch features. The Moov can be worn on your wrist or ankle – the latter used to track cycling and your stride while running.
Water resistance means the Moov can track swimming, logging the length of your swim but also the length of each stroke. When connected to your smartphone via Bluetooth, the Moov's AI coach issues spoken commands to help you push yourself during exercise.
The rubber strap cannot be swapped for a different one, but the breathable design with its many holes should help prevent sweat build up and irritation. Because the Moov Now doesn't have a heart rate monitor, it can be worn over the top of clothing on your wrist or ankle, preventing contact with sensitive skin. The Moov HR Sweat heart rate monitor is sold seperately and designed to be worn on the head, while the Moov HR Burn is a chest strap.
Oura smart ring
For those who don't want a device on their wrists, the smart ring market is growing and becoming increasingly smart. One such device is the Oura Ring, which focuses primarily on sleep tracking, but also records your temperature and has since been used to successfully spot symptoms of Covid-19 three days early with 90 percent accuracy.
Available in different colors and finishes, the Oura Ring monitors your movement, heart rate and temperature to track sleep stages and sleep depth, plus your resting heart rate, respiratory rate and heart rate variability. There are daily activity goals, step and calorie counts, and inactivity alerts, plus a 'readiness' stat every morning to quantify your sleep quality and nighttime energy recovery.
A free sizing kit can be ordered in advance to make sure your Oura is exactly the right size; Oura is available in US ring sizes six to 13. Battery life for the second-generation Oura is claimed to be up to one week.
Withings Steel HR SportWithings
A hybrid smartwatch, the Steel HR Sport by Withings is the French company's most advanced wearable. It offers step, swim, exercise and sleep tracking, plus your heart rate and an estimate for your VO2 max.
The watch can be attached to any standard watch strap, thanks to industry-standard lug bars – perfect if you know certain materials can cause you irritation – and the standard strap is covered in holes to help make it more breathable while exercising.
As with all of the devices mentioned here, keeping the strap clear of dirt, sweat and soap is important for avoiding skin irritation.
Withings Steel HR Hybrid Smartwatch - Activity, Sleep, Fitness and Heart Rate Tracker with Connected GPS, White, Grey Silicone - 36mm (36white - RG - S. Grey-All-Inter)