Apple Watch May Not Work On Tattooed Skin

04/30/2015 05:55 pm ET | Updated May 01, 2015
YouTube/Michael Lovell

Your parents said you'd regret getting that sweet wrist tattoo. But this probably wasn't what they had in mind.

Reports are emerging that the Apple Watch can't properly sense tattooed skin. The problem, dubbed #Tattoogate, is flummoxing inked-up techies.

Some of the Watch's functions, like Apple Pay and push notifications, work only when the device senses it's attached to a person's wrist. When the Watch is removed, it goes dark and prompts the wearer for their passcode. A number of people, including a reputable Apple blog, have noted that heavy tattoos seem to trick the Watch into behaving like it's not being worn.

The issue appears to have first surfaced on an Apple subreddit. On Tuesday, Redditor guine55fan posted that his new Apple Watch wasn't working on his tattooed wrist.

Here's a photo of his Watch. You can see the dark tattoo underneath it:

The user, who did not respond to The Huffington Post's requests for comment, wrote on Reddit that he originally thought his watch had a bad sensor. "The watch would lock up every time the screen went dark and prompted me for my password. I wouldn't receive notifications," he wrote. But he soon realized that when he pressed the watch to non-tattooed parts of his body, it worked just fine.

He said he reported the issue to Apple Support, and he expects to hear back within the week.

Michael Lovell, another watch owner, posted this video documenting the same problem:

So what's going on?

An Apple support article about the Watch's heartbeat sensor explains that it works by pulsing green lights on the veins underneath the skin, and measuring how much of that light is reflected. Because blood is red, it reflects red light and absorbs green light. But certain tattoos might block the green light from reaching the blood.

"The ink, pattern, and saturation of some tattoos can block light from the sensor, making it difficult to get reliable readings," the support article reads. It also offers the unhelpful suggestion of attaching Bluetooth heart-monitoring straps to the chest and wirelessly connecting them to the Watch.

The company did not return our request for comment on the matter.

Apple blog iMore investigated the problem by testing the Watch on tattooed skin. It found that light-colored tattoos didn't disrupt the heart monitor, but that tattoos decorating the skin in black or red ink interfered the most with heart rate readings and sometimes prevented the Watch from registering skin contact at all.

Not all tattooed people have had this problem, though. Some Instagrammers posted pictures of the Watch working just fine over their body art. Is it because their tattoos weren't dark enough or the designs too sparse? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Sleeved all the way to my wrist. #applewatch runs perfectly. #tattoogate is a lie.

A photo posted by Steven C Miller (@stevencmiller) on

Getting used to my #AppleWatch now and loving it.

A photo posted by Craig Fox (@flawlessfox) on

Reports of #Tattoogate come on the heels of a Wall Street Journal report earlier this week which said that Apple Watch shipment delays were the result of a faulty device component. Known as the taptic engine, this component is responsible for creating the sensation of being tapped on the wrist.

"After mass production began in February, reliability testing revealed that some taptic engines supplied by AAC Technologies Holdings Inc., of Shenzhen, China, started to break down over time," the Journal wrote, citing people familiar with the matter.

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