Toasted Skin Syndrome

Just the other night I was looking at this strange blotchiness on my thighs, wondering what it was… only to put it together as I was watching the news yesterday.

Yup, I had spent the day sitting on the couch with a laptop on my lap and ended up with this reddish, mottled skin discoloration on my thighs. It’s a condition better known to scientist and physicians as Erythema ab Igne, or “Toasted Skin Syndrome”.

The condition is nothing new but it was all over the news yesterday after an article was published in the Journal of Pediatrics.   Toasted Skin Syndrome is a disorder caused by prolonged exposure to heat without an actual burn.  In the case of a laptop, the heat originating from the optical drive, the battery, or the ventilation fan can be enough to cause symptoms.  Temperatures may rise as high as 125⁰F, but even lower temperatures in the 109-116⁰F range have been known to cause problems.

Beside the immediate discomfort caused by the heat, Toasted Skin Syndrome is generally harmless and clears up on its own within weeks or months after the exposure to heat is discontinued.  But be aware that prolonged and repeated exposure can lead to permanent skin darkening and, in rare cases, skin cancer.  Men should also consider the effect the heat may have when in such close proximity to the family jewels.

In the ergonomic world, it has long been known that prolonged use of a laptop without external devices, such as a separate keyboard and mouse, is an ergonomic nightmare (more on that topic and solutions in a later post).  But now to add to the bodily insult of this limited tool you have to watch out for the heat hazard too.  So if you must work with the laptop on your lap, you may want to consider protecting your thighs.

Several products on the market may help you to do just that (some ventilated, some not) or you can just use a pillow, cushion or your brief case to protect your lap.

E-Pad Portable Laptop Desk 8

Belkin Cooling Pad (F5L055)

1 comment

  1. Max says:

    It’s amazing how hot a MacBookPro gets, especially watching video. Thanks for posting this, I had no idea there was a prolonged heat exposure condition, altho’ it makes complete sense – there must be some limit to the heat dissipation capacity of the skin surface – after that… something not-good has to happen!

    Once small note about using a pillow or other soft laptop ad-hoc pad – watch you don’t block the air vents on your machine else the problem will be exacerbated.