Toasted Skin Syndrome (No, I’m Not Making This Up)

Sometimes patients think that I am just making up diagnoses. This is a classic example.

I had a patient yesterday who had seen several physicians for evaluation of this strange rash on her back. She had had it for months. It didn’t hurt. It didn’t itch. It hadn’t changed. She and her husband were concerned by its appearance and by the fact that her doctor didn’t know what it was.
I took a look at her and asked one question to make the diagnosis.

erythema-ab-igne-sm.JPG

“Do you use a heating pad?”

“No,” she replied, wrinkling her brow at my curious question. “Why would a heating pad cause a rash anyway?” She asked.

“It’s not the pad,” I answered, “It’s the heat.”

“Well, I do sit by the fireplace on cold nights,” she added.

“Eureka!” I exclaimed. (Well, actually I didn’t, but I thought it). “Do you sit with one side to the fire?”

“Yes, I sit with my left side to the fire while I read.”

“You have erythema ab igne,” I said.

“You’re just making that up, right?” she asked.

I’m not. Erythema ab igne, also known as toasted skin syndrome, is a red, brown rash that develops as a result of prolonged exposure to heat without an actual burn. The redness develops in a particular pattern, as seen in the photo, called reticulate or net like. Slowing of blood flow in the affected area, called hemostasis, is likely the cause.

The rash can be various colors from red to pink to brown. It improves after stopping exposure to heat, but in some instances, the brown coloring might be permanent.

Any source of prolonged heat like heating pads, water bottles, even laptop computers (if it sits on your lap) can be a cause. It is well documented in old dermatology books on the legs of women who would sit close to the fire or the pot belly stove in the winter to try to stay warm.

Ironically, my patient lives here in San Diego. Cold nights, as it turns out, are a relative thing.

86 thoughts on “Toasted Skin Syndrome (No, I’m Not Making This Up)

    • I went to the doctor a few days ago with this “rash” like pattern on my skin and was diagnosed with a “fungus.” I came across this blog two days later and know now that a heating pad is to blame for this phenomenon.

  1. I had this a few months ago on my thighs from my laptop! Small areas about the size of a palm on my anterior thigh, usually worse after the laptop was used, but it was always present. It finally went away about a month after I bought a lap desk for under my computer. My husband thought I was crazy when I said it was from my hot computer, but I’ll be showing him your post later tonight!

    • I personally have gotten a rash EXACTLY like this in round bloches on my skin during and after a hot shower. It happens every few weeks. I thought it was because of the hot water and this article and the other articles confirms this. I shower at night and by morning or a little after that it goes away. Whenever I am in the shower and it happens I turn the water a little colder. My problem is I always am cold so hot showers warm me up…I guess a little too much sometimes.

    • I have this and yes its caused by the heating pad.I am in so much paid I would do anything always thought it was better than pain pills.I might have been wrong.Now I am scared and in pain.

    • Im embarrassed to admit this, but yes I have it right now. I thought my skin was just splotchy for some reason but I continued using my laptop on my thighs and it didn’t go away. I finally decided to look it up and it’s very true. My rash looks like the picture except not as red and lighter. Dont use your laptop on your lap!!

  2. I also experienced this from my laptop being on my lap. I was scared so I blocked it out and kept using my laptop unsafely, now a large area on my left leg has this lattice markings in brown. My mother finally pointed it out and made me look it up and face facts, i’m now keeping my laptop away from my body when I use it and hoping with shae butter lotion and B vitamins I can get rid of the skin marks and possible start of nerve damage underneath. This diagnosis is real, and it should be more wide known!

    • I have the same condition, an area on my left thigh from my laptop. It’s ridiculous, I never thought that my laptop was the cause until I heard about this today and my rash has been there for over a year.

  3. I have stage 4 endometriosis that has recently taken a turn for the wors. I have been using my heating pad and hot water bottle almost continuously for the past 3-4 weeks, even when I was sleeping. The other day I noticed marks like the on in the picture above on my belly and upper thighs and have been quite worried about them. Thanks for clearing up for me what it is. Can you tell me, will it go away? I still really need to use my heating pad but I’m afraid to make the markings permanent. So I’ve just been suffering.

  4. I went to the dermatologist today, and he indicated that I have toasted leg syndrome. I first went to a general physician who prescribed antifungal meds as she thought it was a fungus. When I went to the dermatologist today the physician assistant was already to take a leg scrape/biopsy for testing when the physician came in looked at my leg and asked where do you work? are you exposed to a heater? The answer was yes. He showed me a photo of the condition and sure enough, the pattern on my leg is very similar. It had some pink center and had started turning brown. He prescribed a medication to even my skin tone which is a tough feat with black skin.

    I hope i didn’t cause myself any permanent damage.

  5. I just found this while looking up “heating pad burn” because I have this very thing on my back. I hurt my shoulder and it’s been giving me a lot of pain between my shoulderblades. I’ve had a heating pad on the back of my chair 24/7 to be there when I am sitting down for some relief.

    I’m relieved to hear it’s not something too serious, but I have stopped using the heating pad for now. I guess sitting with it between my back and the back of the chair on the highest setting for hours on end is not the best idea.

  6. I have the same thing on my leg I stay cold all the time so i sit at my computer with my hair dryer on low lol. I think I should start using a blanket instead.

  7. Ive noticed this same “rash” on my legs for about a month now. It was very light so I just ignored it and chalked it up to poor circulation (even though Im a healthy, active, 36yr old). This morning while I was getting dressed, I noticed my “poor circulation rash” had gotten much MUCH worse. I also noticed a blister on my ankle bone. After spending over an hour researching different symtoms online, and trying not to completely freak out, a light buld went off in my head and realized that the blister was likely to have been caused from my heating pad.I had taken a muscle relaxer last night and fell asleep with the heating pad on. I had put the heating pad on a pillow, and then put my right calf onto of the heating pad, adn fell asleep (I still cant believe I could sustain a burn like that without waking up, scary). Still unsure what the sqiggle red lines all up and down my calf were, I continued to search the web, this time I searched for heating pad burns. Im go grateful I came across this site. My leg looks exactly like the picture shown above. Ive used a heating pad (on my legs) every night for over a year now. My rash had been very faint in both legs for a while, but not enough that I ever gave it much thought. Guess it’s time to invest in some some soft snuggly socks and unplug the heating pad. I really hope this is going to go away, its pretty horrible looking!

  8. I injured my left hip and knee while exercising. I have been using a heating pad to both areas for two months. I have the exact rash over the buttocks and knee. Just today I decided to go online and see if a heating pad could be the source. Thanks for clearing this up.

  9. I have been using a heating pad for almost two years now and these splotches just started to apprear a few weeks ago. I am in so much pain and the heat helps and I have the heating pad on all night and I sleep with it under my back. What can I do now? If I continue with the heating pad will the splotches get worse? I had back surgery a year and a half ago and I think that Arthritus has set in since my surgery I hurt all up and down my spine 24 hours a day now and I have a hard time thinking about work or anything else because of my pain. The heat does not make the pain go away it only helps some for me to relax and sleep for a few hours. I only get about maybe 4 hours sleep in one night due to pain. I am only 58 years old and I dont want disability I want to keep working. I make 3 times more money in one week than I would receive on a monthly disability check even though my disability check is better than average I am not ready to quit working. Anyone found any better relief than a heating pad ????? Doctors dont help any more they just give NSAids and I have to live with it. I am now taking dangerous Predinsone daily which I would like to quit taking but is the only thing that gives me a small amount of relief from the pain and stiffness.

  10. I have chronic back pain & I have been sleeping on a heating pad for more than six months maybe a year. My back looks like the picture of the women that denied sleeping on the heat pad. I too was not concerned about it but my boyfriend insisted that I show my doctor. I did and my doctor said the damage that I have done was most likely permanent. I am only 44 years old & I wish that I had known that this could scare me for the rest of my life. Sleeping on the heat was the only real relief that I seem to get for my pain, but could I have done differant? This is real and I have done just what this doctor on here said I toasted my own skin. I just wanted to know what it was and this site really helped me.

  11. Wow! I’m a 16 year old girl who uses a laptop quite often because I am in online school. Usually, my computer will get pretty hot. A couple months ago, I noticed light brown, almost kind of purplish markings on my left leg. (because that’s where the computer vents are) I had no idea what they were, and I kind of guessed that the computer was “cooking” my skin, but I was totally unsure, and I never got around to looking it up. Soon after, I stopped resting the laptop on my legs because I had gotten a desk. Within a couple weeks, the markings had faded significantly. But just a couple of minutes ago, my local news station did a short report on something called “toasted skin syndrome,” and BAM! That totally reminded me of those strange markings I’ve had on my leg! So here I am, on the computer, and I finally know what they were! More people need to be aware of this! I’m DEFINITELY raising awareness of Toasted Skin Syndrome around my community!

  12. I get the same thing sometimes up the front of both shins from using a portable heater under my desk at work. It is freezing in my workplace all year long because of all the computers and video monitors so I use the heater every night all year long. I’ve been trying to keep the heater a little further away from my legs and that seems to help, I haven’t noticed the markings in a while now. I am glad to know I’m not the only one this has happened to.

  13. Got it from sitting in the sun with soft, thick trousers. Looked awful but went away after some hours.

  14. i also get and have toasted skin syndrome but mine comes from having rsd in my leg. Rsd causes hot burning sensation in my leg and toast the skin from inside out. i always thought the red brown coloring and sometimes peeling of skin like a skin sheds after a sun burn. thank you for the info.

  15. New laptop computer created heat through top; it caused fingertips and heels of hands to turn red. Store said temps were withing acceptable range. However, manufacturer(contacted directly) replaced parts. Problem has diminished, but is still present.

  16. I had this problem years ago when I purchased my first laptop and subsequently became addicted to Star Wars Galaxies. I purchased a pad to put the laptop on – a lap desk. This was good for two purposes: it kept the computer from baking my legs and it also kept my computer running cooler. That was in 2005; I’m now two computers down the road and still using that same laptop pad. It was about $30 off Amazon and packs well inside the laptop case. Easy fix.

  17. I personally have gotten a rash EXACTLY like this in round blotches on my skin during and after a hot shower. It happens every few weeks. I thought it was because of the hot water and this article and the other articles confirms this. I shower at night and by morning or a little after that it goes away. Whenever I am in the shower and it happens I turn the water a little colder. My problem is I always am cold so hot showers warm me up…I guess a little too much sometimes. I have never gotten it from my laptop though and I use it on my lap everyday not always for hours but I change positions a lot when I use it. I also have pants instead of shorts and sometimes a blanket on when I use it on my lap.

    • Just from my experience… You should definately get a laptop pad/desk to use between your computer and thighs. Even with pants on this can happen because it did to me. My thighs burned during the course of a winter. A blanket wont help either because there is no place for the heat to go and it will just cause that area to get hotter.

  18. After suffering a back injury and 2 subsequent surgeries w/o much relief I began using a heating pad to help allievate some of the discomfort. It helped quite a bit so I used it ALOT -day & night – and developed this molted look on my back. Problem being, it was on my back so I didnt even notice it for months until finally a dr questioned me about it. It has since faded but I definitly miss the comfort & relief I received while using the heating pad.

    • I figured out what was going on with my thighs when they got so red that I could feel the burn. I have my laptop on my legs for the most part of 60 hours a week. I bought a laptop lapdesk and my thighs cleared up after about a month. They were pretty bad. I can tell you though that even using heat in that area for just one day will bring the red back and it takes forever to go away. If your skin looks like that from a heating pad, I would stop using it in that area permanently. Atleast they make pads and lapdesks for laptops.

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  25. YES!!! I had a feeling that my laptop was the reason for this!! I hv this rash on my upper left thigh, where the hottest part of my laptop rest. I guess I will hv to make sure the laptop stays off the lap!!

  26. I have noticed this also on the backs of my legs and on the fronts of them. I saw this article on the internet the other day and now have figured out that it is my heated seats in my truck. I use them whenever I am in my car year round and a portable heater under my desk at work year round, and now I know this is what is causing this weird discoloring of my skin. I just hope it goes back to normal. I sure miss my heated seats!!!!

  27. I got hives badly last night from sleeping on the heating pad for back pain. I freaked out not knowing what it was, since it didn’t come until 3 hours after I turned the heat off. It was so itchy, felt like scrathcing my skin off.

  28. after I purchased my laptop, I had began noticing some red marks and blotches on my leg…doesn’t hurt, doesn’t itch…but it’s also not going away. Is there any lotions or creams that will help the marks to go away?

  29. at 30 i had 4 major back surgeries 10 years ago and have severe stomach pain and siatic nerve damage amongst many other pains so between the two major pains i constantly keep me heat pad on my stomach and top of legs and i have almost brown large swirley splotches even after 10 years of this if i try not to use it for a while i do see it going away but my pain is so severe i dont stop for very long it causes no additional pain or discomfort so i take the good of it with the mildly bad i went to florida this summer and you know what i dident let it bother me it was there and had a great time with my hubby so unless it really embaresses you dont sit in pain when you can feel better, loved reading everyones stories

  30. I have this really Bad on the backs of my legs. I would sit on the wood stove in the shop waiting for it to heat up.
    I thought all the blood vessels in the back of my legs broke from running but my Doctor knew right away what it was. It’s been about a month and a half and it is just starting to fade. Beware of to much heat this looks so nasty.

  31. i have the same thing on the bcknof my upper legs from a space heater! its horrible im 19 n embarassed to wear shorts!!! any remedies to get rid of it or lessen the appearance?

    • Alissa, I have the same thing on my leg and I am so mad.
      I have neve had heard about this before and cannot believe there are know warnings on these space heaters.

  32. i just found something online that may help!..its worth looking into. Its called Maxi-Peel, which is Tretinoin & Hydroquinone and it can whiten dark spots, blemishes, and other discoloration such as freckles and age spots. One of the only inexpensive solutions i can find but it might be iffy. any professionals that have heard of this?

  33. hubby is paraplegic with rods in his shins, leg circulation bad from knees down > they’re always kinda cold, so we put a heating pad under feet at night to help, we didn’t prob have enough padding/sheets between the pad & skin, was using it for a month, then he had a minor fall and it the midst of it the skin on his heel peeled off on one foot, a 2-inch circular area of the full skin layer it seems, seems fleshy underneath so I think its the whole skin layer that lifted, not much blood a lil, just clear fluid is there, we hadn’t noticed it prior but seems like it was a sort of blister with fluid then he hit his heel & it ripped off, a lil 1cm one is at undertip of his big toe too, its darkened grayish>think blood is underneath at the surface, but I drain it, he’s at doctor today 5th day, but wondering if a pad could cause the skin to do that, kind of detach, gets fluid, then what? does the body plan to slough off that whole thick layer to heal itself? not sure, he also walked 3miles in leg braces for SD RockRoll marathon a week prior, previous longest distance was 1 mile, maybe it was that…

  34. I have a rash on my left thigh as well. It’s not as bad as the picture. I am on my laptop all the time and I’m guessing that it’s the vents from my computer causing this. Hopefully it will go away, because I don’t really like the look of it. I’m glad to know where it’s coming from and I am going to go buy a computer rest thing very soon. Thank’s for the help.

  35. Those of you putting your laptops on your laps need to stop for two reasons…the one listed above and you are going to fry your hard drives. You should be using a laptop cooler so that your laptop doesn’t overheat. If the laptop is on your lap, it isn’t able to vent enough heat to keep the hard drive cool. Buy a laptop cooler. It will solve both problems.

  36. I have this on my slower back. I’m always cold so I sit infornt of the heater alot when I’m home! Can it really be permanent? Mine is not going away and I’v stopped sitting infront of it so often :(. Is there nothing else I can do? Anything I can put on it to make it go away?
    Thanks.

  37. Hi I have this on my stomach and back. The one on my stomach is much worse than the one in the picture. My doctor said it might be from my hot water bottle. The problem I have is i am in constant pain froma stomach problem they cant diagnose and the pain goes into my back. The pain keeps getting worse and my pain killers dont seem to be helping anymore but the hot water bottle gives me a bit a relief at least to get comfortable. The mark on my stomach keeps getting huge blisters on it and when my pain gets worse it seems to spread. When i went to turkey it faded quite alot even tho i was still using my hot water bottle but now i am back in england it has got alot worse again. The blisters keep getting infected and going disgusting plus they smell horrible. I am only 21 and dont have a life due to being so ill is there anything i can do about this without stopping the use of my hot water bottle?

  38. I feel a little better knowing im not alone in this horrible situation. but please does any one know of a CURE?!?!!?!?!?!? home remedies? surgery?? anything!! please help!!

  39. Remember that we all think what we have is the same medical condition. It appears to be very common. Myself, I jump to conclusions often and am often wrong, but never in doubt. So I’ll stop using the heat pad and see if it clears up. One real threat is always things like that possibly becoming cancerous, so I’ll be happy with skin blotches as long as they don’t turn into skin cancer. Only a biopsy might really tell if it’s cancerous, so you roll the dice if you decide not to go to a skin cancer specialist. It seems a prolonged irritation of anything in your body might predispose the organs to cancer (smoking and sunburn are cases in point).

  40. Hi everyone. I;’m a fifteen your old cheerleader and gymnast. over the summer i hurt my back and was told to use a heating pad. i have been using it everyday since july. just the other day i found something that looks similar to the picture but its also very rough dry sink. is it the same thing? i’m concerned and i’m worried to tell my mom. i noticed the rash the day after i fell asleep on the heating pad in a sports bra. its on both sides of my torso and part of my back. help would be very appreciated.

    jessy

  41. I also have this rash on my back due to use of heating pad for extended periods of time due to severe back pain. Now I’m very worried about cancer and will be calling a dermatologist ASAP!

  42. hi thank you for your post – do you know how to get rid of the marks? i have had it for a while now and I am worried it will not go away is there any way to treat it?

    thank you for your help!

  43. I am a chronic pain sufferer; so, I use a heating pad daily. I’ve been using it for a couple years now. I am finally trying to break the habit of using the pad since my pain is almost under control. I’ve noticed that somehow I’m “dependent” on the heating pad even though my pain level is low. KInda like my security blanket….wierd. Well, from my reseach, I’ve found that Hydroquinone (2%-3%) really helps with the scarring from Toasted Skin Syndrome….however, it takes a while (couple of months when used 2 times a day). The thing is, melonin in your skin has built up, that’s what the dark spots are. I’ve found that Nadinola (3% Hydroquinone) Skin Fading Cream works the best. Black and White Skin Fading Cream (2% Hydroquinone) works as well…just takes a bit longer than Nadinola. You can find both of these creams via online or at Walgreens/Wal-Mart. They cost roughly $6.00-$8.00. I hope this helps those of you looking to get rid of the spots. Be sure to wear sunscreen when using these products and follow the directions exactly for best results. Do not place the heating pad over cream that has been applied; this difeats the purpose and may cause a blue/black effect on skin and make things worse! Another thing that can be used in conjunction is Vitamin A…either topical or oral. Oral takes longer but lasts longest.

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