As wearable devices become more popular, some doctors and consumers have expressed concerns about a lack of regulatory oversight to monitor the frequency of skin allergies and other reactions to certain metals or plastics used in the products. Nickel, one of the most common allergens in the US, can be found in things like hand-held devices and jewelry. But unlike Europe, the US has no restrictions on its widespread use in consumer products. That worries some doctors who say that the growing use of mobile and hand-held devices combined with a lack of regulatory oversight could lead to a spike in allergic reactions.
“I am absolutely concerned about it,” said Stephen P Stone, the director of clinical research in dermatology at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and the former president of the American Academy of Dermatology. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 10 to 20% of the population is allergic to nickel. The reactions can be unpleasant, but not fatal. Typically they include blistering, redness and dry skin.
In February, Fitbit, the maker of a popular brand of devices that measure physical activity, had to recall more than a million of its wristbands after receiving complaints about adverse skin reactions. In a statement on its website, the company said that users were most likely suffering from allergic contact dermatitis, a red and itchy rash, caused by either the adhesive or the nickel content.
That frustrated some users, especially those who had not previously suffered from a nickel allergy. Fitbit is facing legal action from consumers who want more information about the Fitbit Force, the line of products the company recalled. “One of the things that’s really frustrating is that Fitbit will not say what caused the reaction,” said Alexandra Schweitzer, a health insurance executive from Massachusetts who said she developed what looked like an infected bug bite from her Force last year.
Several years ago, dermatologists began seeing allergic reactions to cellphones, but some say the scope of the problem has since expanded. In 2011, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts recalled about 1,200 children’s watches because of nickel in the watch’s back, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the independent government agency in charge of recalls. A recent article in The Journal of Pediatrics pointed to a rise in nickel allergies among children and cited an 11-year-old boy who most likely had an allergic reaction to his