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Toasted Skin Syndrome: The Dangers of Using a Laptop on Your Lap

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Prior to the advent of computers, toasted skin was a condition that only bakers, glass blowers, and other artisans who spent a bulk of their time in front of a concentrated heat source, had to deal with. But as we spend increasingly more time in front of our computers, office workers and children are being diagnosed with the condition because of the long-term heat exposure generated by laptops atop laps.

In fact, in one recent case a 12-year-old boy developed a sponge-like pattern on his upper thighs after playing computer games for a few hours every day for a month. Although the boy realized that the laptop he was using got hot on the left side, he never bothered to change his position. In a second case, a Virginia law student sought treatment for a “mottled-looking” discoloration on her upper thighs. Her doctor was stumped about the condition until the young woman shared that she spent about six hours a day with her laptop propped on her lap. The temperature underneath the laptop reached a stunning 125 degrees. That case is but one of 10 reported in medical journals in the past six years.

Furthermore, doctors also warn that other heat sources such as heating pads can cause similar skin irritation. While heating pads rarely cause serious damage they can cause permanent skin darkening, and in rare cases, cancer. Doctors have not found any skin cancer cases linked to laptop use, but still suggest placing a carrying case or other heat shield under the laptop if you have to hold it in your lap. In addition, “toasted skin”, when viewed under a microscope, resembles skin damaged by long-term sun exposure. If that’s not enough to make you change your mind about propping your laptop on your lap for hours at a time, consider this: a medical report several years ago found that men who use their laptops for prolonged periods of time on their laps had higher than normal scrotum temperatures, which can lead to decreased sperm count and a greater chance of infertility.