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Have You Ever Heard of Toasted Skin Syndrome?

Posted: October 5, 2010

Have you ever had spa clients complain about mottled skin on their legs? New evidence suggests that laptops may be the culprit in a relatively new condition called "toasted skin syndrome." Next time you either see this condition on one of your clients or they point it out, ask whether they commonly rest laptops on their laps while using them—that may be the cause.

Have you ever worked on your laptop computer with it sitting on your lap, heating up your legs? If so, you might want to rethink that habit. Doing it a lot can lead to "toasted skin syndrome," an unusual-looking mottled skin condition caused by long-term heat exposure, according to medical reports.

In one recent case, a 12-year-old boy developed a sponge-patterned skin discoloration on his left thigh after playing computer games a few hours every day for several months. "He recognized that the laptop got hot on the left side; however, regardless of that, he did not change its position," Swiss researchers reported in an article published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Another case involved a Virginia law student who sought treatment for the mottled discoloration on her leg. Kimberley Salkey, MD, who treated the young woman, was stumped until she learned the student spent about six hours a day working with her computer propped on her lap. The temperature underneath registered 125°F. That case, from 2007, is one of 10 laptop-related cases reported in medical journals in the past six years.

The condition also can be caused by overuse of heating pads and other heat sources that usually aren't hot enough to cause burns. It's generally harmless but can cause permanent skin darkening. In very rare cases, it can cause damage leading to skin cancers, said the Swiss researchers, Andreas Arnold and Peter Itin from University Hospital Basel. They do not cite any skin cancer cases linked to laptop use, but suggest, to be safe, placing a carrying case or other heat shield under the laptop if you have to hold it in your lap.