Is your computer “toasting” your skin?

Dr. Janet Zand

March 5, 2021

Do you use any of the following devices?

• Laptop
• Space heater
• Heating pad or blanket

If so, you might unknowingly be doing damage to your skin. That includes damage to your blood vessels ... and possibly even the collagen and elastin in your skin. (And as you probably know, collagen and elastin are what keep your skin from sagging.)

So what is causing this damage?

It’s a condition called Erythema Ab Igne, or Toasted Skin Syndrome. And it’s becoming more and more common.

Here’s what you need to know to protect your skin...

Signs of Toasted Skin Syndrome

Toasted Skin Syndrome is caused by heat, although it is not a burn. Instead, it’s caused by a low level of heat, between 109.4 to 116.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Some of the most common devices that give off that kind of heat are space heaters, heated blankets, heating pads, and laptops.

And the damage is so gradual, you don’t even notice it at first. Then one day, you see an itchy, reddish-brown rash on your skin. Unfortunately, by that time the damage is done. Your skin has been “toasted,” damaging blood vessels, collagen, and elastin in the skin.

In the most serious cases, Toasted Skin Syndrome can even lead to certain types of skin cancer.

What to do about it

Luckily, the solution is very simple. Just be mindful about how you use devices that give off heat.

For instance, don’t crank up a heating pad or blanket to the highest setting, or use them for prolonged periods of time. And don’t get too close to space heaters. As great as it might feel to stand over a heater in the winter, that warm air will damage your skin.

Finally, don’t put your laptop on your lap. If you’ve ever worked with your laptop directly on your lap, you probably already know how quickly it can heat up your skin.

In fact, a report published by the National Institutes of Health found that laptops are a big cause of Toasted Skin Syndrome, affecting skin on the legs, thighs, and even on the stomach.

Now, if you really like using your laptop on your lap, another option is a lap desk. A lap desk rests on your lap, and your laptop sits on top of it. (Lap desks are better for your laptop, too, since they give your laptop better ventilation!)

Finally, if you ever end up with a rash from Toasted Skin Syndrome, you can try treating it with over-the-counter hydrocortisone 1% cream. Or, for a more natural solution, try aloe vera gel.

If there’s no improvement in a couple of days, see a dermatologist. They can provide other treatments or medications to help heal your skin.

So ... be careful with those heating devices. And here’s to warmer weather ahead, when we won’t need space heaters or heating blankets anymore!

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