From a DIY nail brightener made from toothpaste to "slugging," the skincare trends on TikTok are fascinating, wacky, and occasionally ingenious. Even a non-Gen Z-er like me can't help put pour over the platform to catch up on all the beauty hacks, hoaxes, and everything in between. And TikTok's latest skincare obsession is white hot—literally. The platform has been going bonkers over a skin condition called Toasted Skin Syndrome, which sounds just as bad as it looks. If you've developed an uncomfortable netlike red rash and can't trace its source, it might be Toasted Skin Syndrome, especially if you've had prolonged exposure to space heaters or a laptop. So, thanks, TikTokers, for brining this to our attention.
Toasted Skin Syndrome
Toasted Skin Syndrome is a skin condition otherwise known as Erythema Ab Igne. It is thought to be due to the chronic and repetitive application of low levels of heat to the skin.
Meet the Expert
- Michele Green, MD is a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist in New York City who specializes in laser resurfacing as well as other cosmetic treatments.
- Lavanya Krishnan, MD, FAAD is a board-certified dermatologist specializing in medical and cosmetic dermatology and is the founder of Arya Derm in San Francisco.
What Is Toasted Skin Syndrome?
Toasted Skin Syndrome is a heat-related skin rash, or Erythema Ab Igne (which translates to "redness from fire" in Latin). "Toasted skin syndrome is another name for a type of hyperpigmented rash that is caused by heat exposure to the skin at levels that are too low to cause a burn," explains Green. Low-grade heat, by the way, ranges anywhere from 109.4 to 116.6 degrees Fahrenheit. "The rash is normally red or brown in color and has a distinct net-like pattern in appearance," says Green.
Krishnan adds, "The heat is usually not enough to cause a burn to the skin, but can cause changes in the superficial blood vessels and perhaps even the collagen and elastin components of the skin." The rash pattern, which can often fade on its own, resembles the ridges of burnt toast.
In some cases, people may experience a "mild itching or burning sensation" associated with Toasted Skin Syndrome, says Green. Krishnan notes that you may also experience some stinging.
Causes of Toasted Skin Syndrome
As the temperatures drop, we're likely to see an uptick in the condition because one of the most common causes of Toasted Skin Syndrome is prolonged exposure to space heaters. "The heat source may be a seat heater, space heater, a heating pad or heated blanket, or even an oven or stove," says Green. As tempting as it may be to hunch over a space heater for warmth, blasting yourself with warm air repeatedly can cause vascular changes resulting in Toasted Skin Syndrome. Ditto for using an electric blanket or heating pad for warmth, especially if you're using it on the same area of skin for prolonged periods of time.
Laptops can also lead to Toasted Skin Syndrome, and if you've ever perched your computer on your lap and experienced the sensation of heat, you can get a sense of how this can happen. A report published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2020 called the "Perils of Technology – Laptop Induced Erythema Ab Igne (Toasted Skin Syndrome) on Abdomen" notes that 90% of cases of Toasted Skin Syndrome occur on the legs and thighs. The report does indicate a possible association between Toasted Skin Syndrome and nonmelanoma skin cancers, but only in cases where the skin lesions "evolve or ulcerate."
How to Treat Toasted Skin Syndrome
Both board-certified dermatologists agree that the primary route of treatment includes removing the heat source immediately.
As far as treatment goes, you have a few options: "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)," says Krishnan. "Over-the-counter retinol creams, like Differin 0.1% gel can also be helpful," she says, as they can stimulate collagen production that may have been altered by the heat source. "If there is minimal to no improvement with these topical over-the-counter treatment options, a dermatologist may be able to provide other prescription alternatives."
To alleviate any discomfort associated with the rash or burn, Green suggests taking an over-the-counter pain reliever like Motrin or Ibuprofen. She also recommends a topical treatment like aloe vera, "which can be therapeutic when applied to affected areas," she explains.
Another home remedy to try includes a whole milk compress, which, according to Green, "can be used two to three times a day in conjunction with an oral antihistamine if needed."
To make a whole milk compress, Green says to pour whole milk into a bowl and allow it to sit at room temperature. "Soak a washcloth in the bowl and then apply it to the affected area of the body for 15-minute intervals." Following the compress, she recommends applying prescription cortisone cream to the affected area without washing off the milk.
The aforementioned report notes that most cases carry a "favorable prognosis," and Green adds that most "mild cases of Toasted Skin Syndrome can resolve on their own." Expect to see the rash fade within a month or so.
Both Green and Krishnan advise seeking medical attention from a board-certified dermatologist if the rash becomes, as Krishnan notes, "symptomatic, where the patient experiences itching and burning."
For more severe cases of Toasted Skin Syndrome, Green says that laser treatment can help improve persistent discoloration. "The VBeam and Fraxel are laser treatments that can address stubborn discoloration. In addition to laser treatments, chemical peels can also address any residual hyperpigmentation."
How to Prevent Toasted Skin Syndrome
Krishnan says that the most critical preventative measure is to "remove the source of repetitive heat and avoid it much as possible." If you're using a space heater, be sure to sit at least two feet away from it. Don't use an electric blanket or heating pad for hours on end; instead, try using them to cozy up, and then switch to a non-heated source of warmth. It's also best to avoid direct exposure to a heated blanket or pad. You can set a timer to make sure you don't fall asleep with a heating device turned on.
"It is important to always position our devices at an appropriate distance from the skin and utilize them only for the recommended duration," says Green. "Using personal heating devices correctly and safely, keeping them on low levels and avoiding prolonged exposure can help prevent Toasted Skin Syndrome."
When it comes to laptops, Krishnan advises keeping the device on a desk or at least on top of a pillow or thick blanket away from exposed skin.