Laptop computers have fostered unprecedented productivity, creativity, and connectivity for people and industry all over the world. They are so convenient, in fact, that some users may use their devices in their laps for eight to ten hours per day. In 2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics published an article which found that chronic exposure to the heat source on the underside of a laptop can cause a rash known as “laptop skin”, or erythema ab igne officially.
The underside of a typical laptop computer emits heat up to 125 degrees. That amount of heat can dilate blood vessels, causing a reddening of the skin surface exposed. Stanford University dermatology professor David Peng says, “The infrared heat causes a reticular pattern of hyperpigmentation due to the swelling of surrounding cells.”
In the past, the most common cause of what is also known as Toasted Skin Syndrome has been found among the elderly who had prolonged exposure to electric blankets and other heat sources.
There are three primary sources for heat in a laptop computer: the optical drive, the ventilation fan, and the battery. The heat is not intense enough to cause burns, but can cause permanent skin darkening. Swiss researchers have found that in very rare and extreme cases, Toasted Skin Syndrome can lead to skin cancer due to chronic, prolonged exposure.
For those at risk of Toasted Skin Syndrome due to laptop use, prevention is a matter of simple common sense. Limit the amount of time you use your laptop in your lap and remove it if you experience discomfort. Also, Dermatologists recommend placing a heat shield such as a laptop case, pillow or sweater on your lap under the device to avoid the mottled, discolored skin pattern now commonly associated with “laptop skin”.