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Toasted skin syndrome: The ultimate guide

Prolonged heat exposure can put you at risk of developing this skin condition.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Oct 6, 2023 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Laura Phelan, NP-C
Woman Sitting Next to Electric Heater
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Oct 6, 2023 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Laura Phelan, NP-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

It’s common for skin to get a little red when it’s warm. For example, you may notice redness (or “erythema”) after a laptop or heating pad has been placed on or near your skin. While this is often no big deal, did you know that prolonged heat exposure could become a real medical condition? 

It’s called toasted skin syndrome, and it may lead to more serious skin complications over time. Fortunately, you can take simple steps to help prevent that from happening. Here, we’ll explain what you need to know about toasted skin syndrome, including what it is, its causes, and its potential treatment options.

Here at Curology, we currently focus on the diagnosis and treatment of acne, rosacea, and anti-aging concerns. We do not treat many of the conditions mentioned in this article. This article is for information purposes.

What is toasted skin syndrome?

The medical term for toasted skin syndrome is “erythema ab igne,” which in Latin means “redness from fire.”¹ The condition appears as skin redness in a net-like (or “reticulated”) pattern. Some skin areas may be darker than others (known as “hyperpigmentation”). 

While anyone can get toasted skin syndrome, it is common in the following groups of people:²

  • Those between the ages of 18-39

  • Women

  • Those with long-term exposure to a heat source

  • Individuals with chronic pain³

Because it’s common, skin redness due to heat may not seem like a big deal. However, chronic exposure to heat may lead to more serious problems Here are some more severe symptoms of toasted skin syndrome that may develop:⁴

  • Burning sensation

  • Itchy skin

  • Irritated skin

  • Open sores 

  • A stinging sensation

  • Hyperkeratosis (bumps on your skin)

If you have any concerns related to your symptoms, visit your medical provider. 

How do you get toasted skin syndrome?

Toasted skin syndrome develops because of exposure to infrared radiation or other heat sources over long periods of time (weeks or months).⁵ Heat sources in direct contact with the skin can damage both the superficial blood vessels and the elastic fibers in your skin. The heat doesn’t need to be extreme; in fact, temperatures of 43 to 47 Celsius (109 to 116 Fahrenheit) are high enough to cause toasted skin syndrome.⁶

Medical providers first discovered erythema ab igne in individuals who worked near wood-burning stoves or other forms of open fire.⁷ Today, it is also common in people who have prolonged exposure to heat-producing electronics.⁸

People suffering from abdominal pain (such as from pancreatitis) or back pain are also susceptible. Researchers believe that these conditions are correlated with an increased incidence of toasted skin syndrome because patients with chronic pain often regularly use heating pads or hot water bottles to get relief–and may overuse them.⁹ Individuals who live in cold environments without adequate heating may also overuse heating pads or sit too close to a heater in order to stay warm.¹⁰ To help protect your skin, be mindful of these heat sources:¹¹

  • Laptops

  • Heating pads or a heated blanket

  • Heat sources related to one’s occupation

  • Hot water bottles

  • Heated car seats

In other words, many common household items may cause toasted skin syndrome. Fortunately, preventing this condition is often simple.

What you can do at home to help prevent toasted skin syndrome 

This is because the best way to help prevent toasted skin syndrome is to decrease your skin’s direct contact with a heat source.¹² Here are some steps that can help you to do that:¹³

  • Use a pillow or other barrier when using a laptop to help prevent laptop-induced erythema ab igne. Just use a different pillow than the one you sleep with.

  • If you have back pain or other type of muscle pain, avoid having heat pads on your skin for prolonged periods.

  • If you feel cold, put on warmer clothing or turn up the thermostat. Don’t keep a space heater, heating blanket, etc. close to your skin for a long time.

If your skin is exposed to heat for a prolonged period, inspect your skin for redness and related symptoms. For example, check the front of your thighs if you tend to have a laptop on your lap for an extended amount of time. Or, if you regularly sit near a heater, check the front of your lower legs and other areas that may have exposure to the heat source. These are some common problem areas, though you should check any areas that have frequent exposure to a heat source.

In general, toasted skin syndrome can resolve in a matter of months or years after you decrease your exposure to the heat source. However, this may not always be the case. Repeated heat exposure across time can cause long-term damage to skin cells and elastic fibers, leading to the release of melanin and the development of darker patches of skin. This may result in a permanent skin condition or even possibly skin cancer.¹⁴ This is why it’s important to seek medical care if symptoms arise.

Medical treatments for toasted skin syndrome

When you speak to a medical provider about toasted skin syndrome, they’ll first want to make sure that you are no longer exposed to a heat source that could make your skin condition worse. Next, they may consider using a topical medication such as hydroquinone or tretinoin to improve the discoloration.¹⁵ Depending on how serious they feel the condition is, they may recommend regular skin examinations or refer you to a specialist.¹⁶

In general, you should see a medical provider if you’re ever concerned by your symptoms. Here are some of the examples of more severe symptoms that may merit an examination:¹⁷

  • If you have skin marks such as broken skin (“ulceration”)

  • If you have patches of skin that are darker than other areas (“hyperpigmentation”)

  • If the skin issue isn’t resolved after removing the heat source.

Every situation is different and seeing a medical provider is the best way to get answers for your specific condition. Here are the answers to commonly asked questions about toasted skin syndrome:

FAQs

Is toasted skin syndrome serious?

Toasted skin syndrome may resolve on its own without long-term effects.¹⁸ However, it can be serious in some cases. If you are exposed to a heat source for prolonged periods of time and notice skin markings such as an ulcer or multiple dark patches, this may be considered serious and a reason to speak with your healthcare provider.¹⁹

Can hot water cause toasted skin syndrome?

It depends on how hot the water is and how long you’re exposed to the water. If you have prolonged and frequent exposure to water around 108 degrees Fahrenheit, that may cause toasted skin syndrome.²⁰

Will toasted skin syndrome go away?

Toasted skin syndrome may resolve without treatment after the skin is no longer exposed to a heat source. However, there are some cases when it doesn’t resolve, which may require medical treatment. If you have any concerns, it’s always best to speak with your medical provider.

What is the best cream for toasted skin syndrome?

Toasted skin syndrome may involve a variety of symptoms, such as dark spots, a web-like skin redness, and open sores. The best cream to use depends on your specific symptoms and medical history. For example, topical tretinoin or hydroquinone may be used to help with hyperpigmentation, though only use these creams under the guidance of your medical provider.

Creating a simple skincare routine

When people hear that laptops and heating pads could potentially cause permanent changes to their skin, they may be interested in learning how to take better care of their skin more generally. That’s where Curology comes in! 

Skincare can be overwhelming due to the abundance of information on various trends and products. That’s why we provide you with a simplified and personalized routine for your specific concerns.

Curology uses research-backed active ingredients to treat a variety of conditions, such as acne, rosacea, and skin changes due to aging. To get started, all you have to do is take a few photos of your skin, complete a brief quiz about your skin concerns, and then, if Curology is a fit, you’ll be paired with a licensed dermatology provider who can create a routine best suited to your skin.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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We’re here for you along the way, and your provider can adjust your formula as your skin needs may change over time. Sign up for a Curology trial today.*

• • •

P.S. We did our homework so you don’t have to

  1. Kettelhut, E.A., et al. Erythema Ab Igne. StatPearls. National Library of Medicine. (2022, December 24). 

  2. Ozturk, M. and An, I. Clinical features and etiology of patients with erythema ab igne: A retrospective multicenter study. J Cosmet Dermatol. (July 2020).

  3. Kettelhut, E.A., et al. Erythema Ab Igne. StatPearls. National Library of Medicine. Ibid.

  4. Kettelhut, E.A., et al. Erythema Ab Igne. StatPearls. National Library of Medicine. Ibid.

  5. Kettelhut, E.A., et al. Erythema Ab Igne. StatPearls. National Library of Medicine. Ibid.

  6. Haleem, Z., et al. Erythema Ab Igne: A Rare Presentation of Toasted Skin Syndrome With the Use of a Space Heater. Cureus. (February 2021).

  7. Wipf, A.J. and Brown, M.R. Malignant transformation of erythema ab igne. JAAD Case Rep. (August 2022).

  8. Kettelhut, E.A., et al. Erythema Ab Igne. StatPearls. National Library of Medicine. Ibid.

  9. Kettelhut, E.A., et al. Erythema Ab Igne. StatPearls. National Library of Medicine. Ibid.

  10. Kettelhut, E.A., et al. Erythema Ab Igne. StatPearls. National Library of Medicine. Ibid.

  11. Kettelhut, E.A., et al. Erythema Ab Igne. StatPearls. National Library of Medicine. Ibid.

  12. Kettelhut, E.A., et al. Erythema Ab Igne. StatPearls. National Library of Medicine. Ibid.

  13. Kettelhut, E.A., et al. Erythema Ab Igne. StatPearls. National Library of Medicine. Ibid.

  14. Kettelhut, E.A., et al. Erythema Ab Igne. StatPearls. National Library of Medicine. Ibid.

  15. Kettelhut, E.A., et al. Erythema Ab Igne. StatPearls. National Library of Medicine. Ibid.

  16. Kettelhut, E.A., et al. Erythema Ab Igne. StatPearls. National Library of Medicine. Ibid.

  17. Kettelhut, E.A., et al. Erythema Ab Igne. StatPearls. National Library of Medicine. Ibid.

  18. Kettelhut, E.A., et al. Erythema Ab Igne. StatPearls. National Library of Medicine. Ibid.

  19. Kettelhut, E.A., et al. Erythema Ab Igne. StatPearls. National Library of Medicine. Ibid.

  20. Haleem, Z., et al. Erythema Ab Igne: A Rare Presentation of Toasted Skin Syndrome With the Use of a Space Heater. Cureus. Ibid.

Laura Phelan is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She earned her Masters of Science in Nursing at Benedictine University and went on to get her post-master’s certificate as a Family Nurse Practitioner at the University of Cincinnati.

*Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Results may vary.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
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Curology Team

Image of Laura Phelan Nurse Practitioner

Laura Phelan, NP-C

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