Apple Confirms Apple Watch Problems With Tattoos — Dark, Solid Ink Blocks Heart Rate Sensors

Apple finally confirmed that the Apple Watch doesn’t like tattoos, according to Naked Security, although owners, who affectionately have referred to the issue as “TattooGate,” have known about this problem ever since the device began showing up on doorsteps on April 24.

The most prolific of complaints say the tattoos stop the watch’s heart rate sensors from working. This leads to asking for a passcode, and eventually results in Apple Pay not working.

According to MacRumors, Apple Watch owners noticed their watch “not functioning properly.” Testing revealed that dark tattoos seemed to interrupt “heart rate sensor and skin contact registration,” according to the report.

Because the Watch cannot detect the wearer’s heart rate, it stops the passcode and Apple Pay features from working properly.


Apple finally confirmed the Apple Watch tattoo problem, noting that the technology used to measure the heart rate does not play nice with tattoo ink, according to Naked Security.

“Dark inks, such as red, blue and black, are reportedly more prone to obscuring heart rate readings, given how colors play into the device’s sensor system.”

Specifically, the photoplethysmography technology used in the heart rate sensor flashes “green LED lights paired with light-sensitive photodiodes to detect the amount flowing through” the wrist.

The green LED light absorption is greater as blood flows, and less in between heartbeats, which is how the lights measure the heart rate, according to Apple. This sensor also uses infrared light, and by switching back and forth between the two, the sensor gets an accurate calculation of the wearer’s heart rate.


However, despite the advanced capabilities, which Naked Security notes is hit or miss in even the best of conditions, the tech has difficulties detecting the wearer’s pulse through tattoos, and if it doesn’t, it causes wonky readings, resulting in apps like ApplePay not to work right.

Naked Security also notes that there is a possibility that users with dark skin may also have issues, though this has not been confirmed yet.

According to iMore’s tests, though they could not replicate the heart sensor issues using patterned tattoos, they found that solid, dark colors caused the most problems.

Apple finally updated its Apple Watch page about the issue, and confirmed everyone’s assertion that dark ink is an issue.

Apple noted, “The ink, pattern, and saturation of some tattoos can block light from the sensor, making it difficult to get reliable readings.”

The first Apple Watch tattoo complaints came as early as April 28, when a number of new watch owners posted on Reddit and the Apple Support forum.

Each complainant noted they hadn’t seen the issue posted elsewhere.

Ben Fitton, the first to post a complaint on the Apple Support forum on April 28, said that the watch wouldn’t work on his tattooed arm, but that it worked “perfectly on the other which doesn’t have any ink where a sensor is placed.”

In a later post, he said he thought the black ink blocked the sensor – a trip to the Genus Bar proved his theory. The solution was to turn off wrist detection and the passcode – a solution he found disabled Apple Pay.

Apple Watch Doesn't Work On Tattooed Wrists
Apple Watch Doesn't Work On Tattooed Wrists. Photo

Reddit user guinne55fan had a similar issue, and said when he used the watch on his not-tattooed hand, it “stayed unlocked,” as opposed to when he used it on his tattooed arm, and it locked up whenever the “screen went dark and prompted me for my password.”

Although Apple had yet to confirm or deny the issue at the time of the complaint postings, the company has since updated the documentation page for the heart sensor, and it now includes information about dark-colored tattoos.

According to the same documentation, hooking up the watch to an external heart rate monitor via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi is the only workaround, at least until Apple fixes this round of Apple Watch problems via a software update.

Have you had issues wearing your Apple Watch over a tattoo, or any other problems?

[Photo Credit: guinne55fan/Reddit]