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If you’ve ever used a laptop and balanced it on your legs, there’s a chance you’ve felt some heat coming from it.

Toasted skin syndrome happens when your legs are exposed to that heat for longer periods of time. It isn’t usually a serious condition but has been linked to cancer.

While there’s no treatment for it, there are some things that you can do to reverse toasted skin syndrome in the early stages. Read on to learn more about this condition, as well as its causes and treatments.

Toasted skin syndrome, also known as erythema ab igne, is a condition that causes skin discoloration, itching, and burning sensations.

This happens after your skin is exposed to a heat source repeatedly over a long period of time, but the heat is not hot enough to actually burn your skin.

When your skin is exposed to low-grade heat — 109.4 to 116.6°F (43 to 47°C) — it can cause a red, circular area of discoloration to the area that is exposed.

The exact cause of the discoloration is not well-known, but it’s thought that the prolonged heat exposure causes changes to the elastic fibers that make up your skin, as well as changes to the microscopic blood vessels that live at the skin’s surface.

Scientists have compared these changes to those that occur when your skin is repeatedly exposed to ultraviolet rays, either from the sun or from indoor tanning booths.

Toasted skin syndrome can be caused by a variety of modern-day items, but it has been around for much longer than you might think.

When the syndrome was first discovered, items that caused this skin irritation included wood-burning stoves and working with hot coals.

Often, coal workers and chefs who had prolonged exposure to heat sources like these developed toasted skin syndrome on their faces.

Modern causes of toasted skin syndrome are a little different. Current common causes include:

  • Prolonged use of a laptop on the thighs. This is usually evident on the left thigh since most laptop batteries and vents are located on the left side of the device. With the recent increase in remote work, it’s likely that this will become more common.
  • Seat heaters in cars. There have been cases reported in people who use their seat heaters for 2 to 4 hours at a time.
  • Heating pads or hot water bottles. While these are helpful in easing pain in the abdomen, there have been reported cases of toasted skin syndrome after using them for long periods of time.
  • Space heaters. Historically, toasted skin syndrome was found in older people who spent much of their time in front of radiators or space heaters.

Erythema ab igne in children

Children may be at an increased risk of toasted skin syndrome since their skin is generally more sensitive than adults.

There have been reported cases in children who spend several hours per day playing video games on a laptop perched on their thighs.

Healthline

Toasted skin syndrome is usually resolved by removing the heat source that is causing it. However, sometimes it can cause more dramatic changes in your skin cells that can develop into other conditions, including cancer.

The types of cancer that are associated with toasted skin syndrome include:

While cancer isn’t a common complication of toasted skin syndrome, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider about any skin changes you notice.

While there’s not one specific treatment for toasted skin syndrome, there are things that you can do to help ease the symptoms. These include:

  • Removing the heat source. This is the best way to prevent any further irritation from happening. Once the heat source is removed, it’s likely that the discoloration will fade and any irritation will resolve. If the cause is a laptop, consider putting a laptop cover on your computer or relocating your workspace.
  • Topical medications. Topical medications like retinoids can help with the symptoms of toasted skin syndrome. A dermatologist can recommend one that is best for your particular situation.

Toasted skin syndrome is caused by prolonged heat exposure to your skin, usually from heat sources like laptop batteries, space heaters, or heating pads.

These heat sources can cause changes in your skin’s cells and fibers, which can then create a discoloration on your skin.

Sometimes, these skin cell changes can develop into cancer. Treatment involves taking away the heat source that’s causing irritation, as well as using medications on the skin to calm the irritation.

If you’re noticing any changes in your skin, especially after applying a heat source, it’s important to talk to a healthcare provider to rule out any more serious conditions.