The Problem with Smartwatches and Tattoos


Just like cellphones were 20 years ago, smartwatches today have become essential in people’s lives. Tracking your heartbeat, counting your burned calories, and even giving you information about today’s weather are a few of the many functions these devices provide us. Counting today with several brands and models of smartwatches, you can choose the one that fits your needs and budget.

Smartwatches also come in many minimalist designs. Almost every one of them goes well with most clothes and different types of styles, making them a fashion accessory every tech lover should have. It seems like the perfect device, isn’t it? But there is something that smartwatch companies overlooked — tattoos.

Sensors vs ink

You might be wondering what tattoos have to do with smartwatches. The answer is more complex than it may seem. These devices work with skin sensors for them to perform properly to their full capacity, but what happens if those sensors don’t? The result is that the watch might turn dark and lock because the device would perform like it’s not being used.

Users have reported that this kind of failure has occurred in Apple Watches for years. These smartwatches use photoplethysmography, which according to research published in the National Center of Biotechnology Information is a “simple and low-cost optical technique that can be used to detect blood volume changes in the microvascular bed of tissue. It is often used non-invasively to make measurements at the skin surface.”

Thanks to this technology, Apple Watches can track your heart right using light. The problem comes when this technology cannot work properly when tattoo ink on the skin interferes with the reading system. Two things can happen in this case: either the device provides inaccurate results or it just does not register any data at all.

This is an issue that has been rounding on social media recently and some people on Reddit have talked about this. However, it was only last September when Latin American comedian and social media personality Leo Rojas, tweeted about his experience. The translated tweet reads that people with tattooed wrists won’t be able to fully experience the functionalities of an Apple Watch.

Some solutions for tatted wrists

If you have tattoos on your wrists, you might be wondering if there’s no way for you to enjoy having a smartwatch. However, don’t fret; there’s always a way around these things. Here are some possible solutions if you have a wrist tattoo.

First, you can opt to turn off the wrist detection on your smartwatch. However, while it can avoid drawbacks because of the tattoo on your wrist, turning off this function would limit the performance of your smartwatch. 

Another way to go about is to use your watch on a non-tattooed area of your skin. Leo’s tweets showed that users can opt for that or at least place it in an area where there are not many inks on the skin. Forearms and ankles are some of the recommended areas since these are places where a smartwatch can rate your heartbeat.

Most smartwatches have Bluetooth connections, so another solution would be for you to enable a monitor that can be paired with your device. This way you can use your smartwatch on your wrists without worrying about tracking your heartbeat. Just make sure the monitor you decide to connect is fully supported by the watch.

While there is some kind of workaround with this problem, it seems that companies have yet to find a hard solution for smartwatches to work on inked wrists. If you’re someone who has yet to buy a smartwatch and has heavily tatted wrists, maybe think twice before buying one.

Photo credit: The feature image has been taken by Daniel Cañibano.
Source: John Allen (National Center of Biotechnology Information)

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