If You WFH, Listen Up: Your Laptop Position May Be Causing Skin Issues

One of the biggest perks of working from home is that we can literally make ourselves at home while we work. We can opt to sit at a desk, on our bed, or on a sofa. And truth be told, it's much comfier to work on a sofa — where the cushioning conforms to our contours — than on an ergonomic office chair. However, the sofa working experience has one major drawback: it doesn't come with a desk and you'll usually have to place your laptop on your lap. According to CMD Ltd, this is an incorrect height to place your laptop, and working from your lap instead of a desk can predispose you to neck pain, repetitive strain injury, and back pain. That's not where the risks end, however. 

If you've been working with a heated device like a laptop on your lap for a while and you've noticed some mild to moderate changes in your skin tone in addition to some burning or itching sensations on the tops of your thighs, you may be experiencing toasted skin syndrome. While this is not necessarily a serious condition, it can have a negative impact on your skin in the long run. Here's what to know about toasted skin syndrome and what you can do about it. 

What is toasted skin syndrome?

Toasted skin syndrome is also known as erythema ab igne (EAI). "EAI results from chronic exposure to low level heat. The chronic heat exposure causes damage to the skin resulting in a red (acute form) or brown (chronic form) lacy net-like patterned rash," pediatric dermatologist Dr. Daniel Grove told Akron Children's Hospital. Your skin can also experience itchiness and burning sensations.  

If you are someone who regularly works with your laptop on your lap, or uses heated blankets, space heaters, or heating pads, you may be more at risk for developing toasted skin syndrome. Using the seat heaters in your car for a long enough time can cause the condition as well. Laptop-induced EAI can be caused by heat from the battery, optical drive, or blocked air vents, according to a 2020 paper published in the Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. This heat can reach a temperature of 122 degrees Fahrenheit. According to the study, around 90% of EAI cases that are caused by laptop use are located on the thighs and legs. 

It might go away, but it can also get more complicated

The hyperpigmented rash caused by EAI can run its course in several months or years, but there's a chance it can become permanent if your skin is constantly exposed to heat, according to a 2021 study published in Cureus. There's also a remote chance that EAI can evolve into a more serious skin condition. 

"EAI has been linked with skin cancer," Dr. Grove told Akron Children's Hospital. "Chronic heat exposure causes cumulative epidermal damage, which increases the long-term risk of squamous cell skin cancer or Merkel cell carcinoma. Fortunately, the malignancy risk is very low." To prevent EAI from happening in the first place or prevent its symptoms from getting worse, refrain from exposing your skin directly to heat or infrared sources. Even if you're not sitting at a desk, try to put an item between your skin and the laptop, like a lap desk or a pillow. 

To alleviate the rash, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Lavanya Krishnan told Byrdie, "Depending on the location of the rash, areas with thinner skin may respond to over-the-counter Hydrocortisone 1-2% cream (a topical steroid cream). Over-the-counter retinol creams, like Differin 0.1% gel can also be helpful." If your symptoms persist, you might need to speak with a doctor who can suggest other treatment options.