User claims wrist tattoos cause Apple Watch malfunction

WATCH: Wearable technology is in its early stages and some kinks are still being ironed out, including how well the tech works with tattooed individuals. Peter Kim reports.

UPDATE (April 30): More Apple Watch users have come forward claiming their tattoos are interfering with their devices, including Reuters reporter Matt Siegel.

According to Siegel’s report, the Watch locked on tattooed skin and did not deliver the soft vibrations – sent from the Watch’s taptic engine – that alert the user to incoming messages. He also noted that heart rate readings were “significantly different” on tattooed and untattooed wrists.

At time of publishing, Apple had not yet responded to request for comment on the issue.

However, a support page for the Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor does mention that tattoos could interfere with the sensors performance.

Story continues below advertisement

“Permanent or temporary changes to your skin, such as some tattoos, can also impact heart rate sensor performance. The ink, pattern, and saturation of some tattoos can block light from the sensor, making it difficult to get reliable readings,” read the website.

Technology website iMore conducted some tests with the Apple Watch on various tattoos and found that the watch did run into troubles with some tattoos, but not all.

“Dark, solid colors seem to give the sensor the most trouble — our tests on solid black and red initially produced heart rate misreadings of up to 196 BPM before failing to read skin contact entirely,” read the report.

“Tests on lighter tattoo colors including purple, yellow, and orange produced slightly elevated heart misreads of 80 BPM (compared to 69 BPM on the wearer’s non-tattooed wrist), but otherwise did not appear to interfere with skin contact registration.”

Breaking news from Canada and around the world sent to your email, as it happens.


Are wrist tattoos interfering with the Apple Watch’s wrist detection feature? It’s a question many are wondering Wednesday, after a Reddit user described the problems he was having with his new smartwatch.

On a Reddit thread, as reported by Cult of Mac, user “guinne55fan” described his experience.

“So I thought my shiny new 42mm SS watch had a bad wrist detector sensor. The watch would lock up every time the screen went dark and prompted me for my password. I wouldn’t receive notifications. I couldn’t figure out why especially since the watch was definitely not losing contact with my skin,” the user wrote (you can read the full thread here).

Story continues below advertisement

The Reddit user goes on to explain that, after experimenting, the Apple Watch’s wrist detection function worked when the device was placed on his non-tattooed hand, but stopped working when he placed it on his tattooed wrist.

The user later said that he spoke with Apple representatives who walked him through steps to try and fix the issues, adding they would report the issue to engineering.

Here’s how the Apple Watch reads you heartrate

Apple’s website does provide a lot of information about how the Watch’s heart rate sensor works, which may provide some insight as to why those with dark tattoos may be experiencing issues. According to Apple’s support page:

“Blood is red because it reflects red light and absorbs green light. Apple Watch uses green LED lights paired with light‑sensitive photodiodes to detect the amount of blood flowing through your wrist at any given moment. When your heart beats, the blood flow in your wrist — and the green light absorption — is greater. Between beats, it’s less. By flashing its LED lights hundreds of times per second, Apple Watch can calculate the number of times the heart beats each minute — your heart rate.

The heart rate sensor can also use infrared light. This mode is what Apple Watch uses when it measures your heart rate every 10 minutes. However, if the infrared system isn’t providing an adequate reading, Apple Watch switches to the green LEDs. In addition, the heart rate sensor is designed to compensate for low signal levels by increasing both LED brightness and sampling rate.”

Story continues below advertisement

Tech site iMore theorized that ink pigmentation from tattoos could interfere with this process, causing the heart rate sensor to become inaccurate or inoperable.

However, it’s important to note that natural skin pigmentation doesn’t block light the same way artificial pigmentation – or tattoo ink – does.

Global News has reached out to Apple for confirmation and comment, but did not receive a response at the time of publishing.

– With files from Global News’ tech reporter Nicole Bogart

Sponsored content