My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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blotchy burns on my legs from my Macbook

I acquired my black Macbook late in the spring and was doing a lot of traveling until mid-July. Since then, I’ve been at home working on my laptop all day and all night. I purchase laptops because they’re LAPtops (regardless of Apple’s avoidance of that term) – I need the machine in my lap so that my hands can be at the right angle to prevent my carpal tunnel from flaring up. This is why I haven’t owned a desktop in almost a decade. (Managing my CTS is a longer story, but laptops are the only thing that I’ve found to work.)

Much to my horror, a burn started emerging on my lap this summer. It’s just like the woman who reported this last year. It’s kinda creepy actually. The burn is all blotchy and it shows where my laptop clearly sits. I didn’t feel it happening, but it’s noticeably there and very much in the shape of my Mac. (And it makes it clear that I angle my Mac funny on my lap.) In fact, when it first started to appear, I ignored it because I thought maybe I had done a bad job with the suntan lotion on my thighs. But it got worse and then it dawned on me. I had heard about this problem, but I thought they had fixed it with some firmware upgrade. But it is distinctly the shape and size of my Mac. And it most definitely happened this summer and I have done all of the upgrades requested.

The eerie part is that it’s not going away. I went to Burning Man (which meant 5 days without the laptop) and when I returned, I found a wooden lap-seat to place the machine on, but it still hasn’t gone away. (In the meantime, the burn I got from getting seared by the Temple embers has gone away, as has the slight sunburn.) I’m starting to get a wee bit creeped out. What kind of burn is this? Did my laptop cause more damage than I thought? Are people who aren’t seeing the burn still being affected by whatever is causing it? I never thought that my Macbook was that hot – it was always comfortable in my lap with my yoga pants on. The burn happened without me noticing pain. And there’s no dreadful sound or anything. Just a creeping blotchy ugly burn that doesn’t show any signs of going away.

(Photos not getting posted cuz my thighs are *not* my sexiest feature.)

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65 comments to blotchy burns on my legs from my Macbook

  • Consult a doctor / hope some read your blog?

    Wouldn’t using a nice bluetooth wireless keyboard in your lap serve much the same purpose, if you had a desktop?

    Maybe you could just put a little bracer in the back of something–I don’t know what would fit on the macbook, I’m imagining the 9 cell battery model for my dell m1330–that would lift it up and give it some breathing space between the machine and lap.

    Hope it turns out OK, mysterious technology induced injuries are no fun.

  • now you know why they’re called notebooks. hope it clears up.

  • Gen

    danah- there’s a number of different products out there which you can place on your lap in between your lap and your Mac so this doesn’t continue or get worse. Please put some insulation (that still allows for air circulation for the machine) in between you and the machine.

  • All sorts of low to mid heat generating devices can cause low grade burns such as this. You need to be careful with *any* laptop or device that will heat beyond 110 F. or so and comes into extended contact with your skin. I used to have to be very careful with transdermal recording devices back when I did more clinically oriented research and move the devices every hour or so because they heated the skin to obtain recordings.

    I would suggest using a book or dedicated device that shunts or insulates the heat from your laptop when using it for extended periods of time. My guess is that the “burn” will actually go away in a couple of weeks. Not to worry.

  • I’m also a MacBook laptop burn victim, and upon reading your post immediately ran to the bathroom to check the status of my leg. 😉

    It’s been about two months since I first noticed the burn and stopped sitting my laptop on my lap, and I can barely notice where the burn was now. I’m not entirely sure how long it took to disappear, but I do know it was longer than a week (I want to say it was closer to 3 or 4 weeks, but I don’t have a clear memory because I just started ignoring it.)

    That said, I doubt you have any long term damage. It just takes some time for the blotchiness to go away.

  • Lucent

    The legs of females are often insufficiently vascularized. This is the cause of cellulite. Regions lacking veins would also lack innervation, preventing heat detection in the same regions that lack heat export and causing an inconsistent erythema.

  • danah, I honestly wish I could do better than wish you well. Don’t freak out, these burns should eventually go away, give it some time. Or, well, sue Apple.

  • ahhh, i can’t believe that happened to you! what i could better believe is if it branded you with an apple sign for marketing purposes…yes that i could better, possibly, believe.

  • Hi Danah, sorry to ear that from you. The only thing I can do is giving you an advice: this laptop support from Ikea http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/80115790 should prevent you from getting any other burns and improve air circulation. My best wishes of a quick recovery.

  • If you have a case or wrap for your computer, pop that on your lap then put your machine on top. This should at least provide a little more protection from heat.

  • From your description of the affected area as “blotchy,” it sounds like it may not be a burn at all, but rather a rash. At the risk of getting too personal and squicky, you might have an extremely mild case of miliaria, which is caused when sweat glands become clogged with oils or dead cells. It’s extremely common.

    In the worst case, you might end up with a superficial skin infection (probably Staph) that will need to be treated with topical antibiotics, but from your description it sounds like you just need to keep the area clean and dry so it can get better all by itself.

    Give the area good, regular scrubbings with soap and warm water, and find someplace else to put your laptop for a while.

  • danah, it’s such a relief to find you writing about your laptop burn.

    The same thing happened to me. I work sitting one leg crossed over the other, my laptop balanced on one thigh. At first it was just an itch, a slight irritation. I thought that I was developing a skin rash, an allergic response to soap, shower gel or something similar. I even wondered about the washing powder we were using. Then the penny dropped.

    The problem is, that the burn (for that’s what it is) develops slowly. My white Macbook isn’t that hot to touch, it feels pleasantly warm and you wouldn’t think that it could cause damage, but it does. It seems to me that the burn grows over time. It’s not like touching a flame or a hot plate. Its more of a stealth burn. After several hours work it can become painful, reminding me that its time to have a rest or swap legs! As time goes by I have noticed that my thigh has become more sensitive and as a result the length of time I spend per leg has shrunk. And yes, now prompted by you I’ve looked and I can see the dreaded red blotch.

    I suspect that the damage, for that’s what it is is serious and needs to be respected. It feels more significant than sun burn, it feels deeper if that makes sense.

    I know the solutions are simple.

    I need to stop putting the laptop on my lap, change my posture, get a lap seat thing, sit at a desk, use an asbestos blanket, spend time wondering about why they are called laptops, spend less time working, spend more time off the net.

    But it’s not that simple, that’s not how I work.

    Help……. I’m addicted to my laptop.

  • Mark

    danah,
    i got a similar burn from my macbook. it went away after a week or two.

  • Che

    I’ve been using a Podium CoolPad from Road Tools as a base for my Mac laptop and love it. It has a swivel feature and the ability to adjust height and slant. Its lightweight as well.

  • maribeth

    I get the same thing from this windoze laptop I use — except that it actually does get uncomfortably hot, which is a Good Thing or I’d be slow-cooking my thighs daily (why yes, computer addict here).

    There’s some research on prolonged use of low-to-medium temperature heating pad use, which I suppose could be a source of applicable data:

    From http://www.ampainsoc.org/pub/bulletin/win05/inno1.htm
    “Prolonged use of an electric heating pad on one area of the body, in addition to being inconvenient, may cause a severe burn, even if the pad is set at a low to medium temperature (Bill, Edlich, & Himel, 1994).”
    Bill, T.J., Edlich, R.F., & Himel, N.H. (1994). Electric heating pad burns. Journal of Emergency Medicine, 12, 819�824.

  • Ken

    danah, I’m no expert, but isn’t Bluetooth (like wifi) a low-power form of microwave energy? I’ve seen warnings that wifi routers put out quite a bit of energy close to the routers themselves. Do you think it possible that using something like a Bluetooth mouse might present a similar problem?

    Just a thought.

  • Nance

    I have been going crazy wondering what could be wrong with me. I developed these white spots that are very itchy just above my knees where my laptop sits. I thought maybe it was skin cancer and showed it to several people who had skin cancer and all say that what I have does not look like skin cancer. Last night I started thinking…is it the laptop because my Mac is so so hot, but I never thought it would do any damage. Well, I did a google search and found this site. I guess my problem is a result of my Mac. I have a pillow on my lap right now, but I can feel the heat and burning…. I have used so many creams on my legs, but nothing was clearing up this rash! Now I know it’s the laptop….I will have to find something to put under the laptop…this huge pillow doesn’t work!

  • J

    I too have the same burn on my leg resulting from the use of my macbook. It has been there for months and will not go away even when I don’t use my laptop of a few days. I thought I was the only one.

  • JCG

    I’m a 39-year old female. I’ve been using my powerbook at
    home for 4+ hours on my lap each day, and have developed a
    similar blotchy pattern on my dominant laptop leg. It looks
    the way skin looks when circulation returns to it irregularly
    – as if you just had something sit on it, except that thas
    normally goes away in a few minutes, and this one doesn’t.

    It doesn’t actually itch, it doesn’t hurt, and it’s starting
    to kinda sorta fade a little after a few weeks of using a
    tray instead. I thought it was some sort of sweat-induced fungal infection at first and started treating it with Chlorimazole,
    but from the descriptions here, that was irrelevant.

    I’m surprised to not see this as Powerbookitis in the
    literature!

    Thanks for posting about this – it’s nice to hear that it’s
    likely to go away over time, because it’s freaking me out just
    a little bit.

  • arba

    my left leg is burning as I write…
    My laptop is killing my legs too, it gets so hot that it just shuts down itself.
    My leg is red pretty much all over from the knee up like a sunburn because i move the laptop around every few mins because it burnsss.
    I get a burning sensation as soon as I put the laptop on them, the burn feels so deep that it hurts to the touch,

    From now on no more LAPtop, just BEDtop or whatever works.

    Thanks for the info, I am going to look into the cooling pads.

    arba

  • Allison

    Hello,

    I, too, have the burn on my left leg. It is splotchy and hasn’t gone away in two months now. I had no idea that this was happening until it showed up on my leg and I googled to see if anyone had heard about leg burns from laptops. What is going on with this and has there been any resolution?

    allison

  • elias and patrick

    I too have the black MacBook and my partner has the white MacBook. We were sitting here at home today , both on our Macbooks, and we were both scratching our hands and fingers. This has been going on for awhile now and just today I asked him if he thought it was our computers. All day we had been fine and than we started working on our computers and our hands start itching and our legs were also itching when we had the computer on our laps. We have since moved our computer to small table tops next to us but our hands continue to itch and burn when we are on them. Does anyone else have itchy hands when using their Macs?

  • Teri Pettit

    I got a burn from my 17 inch Macbook Pro on Sunday night that was so bad it raised huge blisters.

    It was sitting on my bare legs, and I could feel it getting uncomfortably hot on my thighs, but it gets hot a lot, and I have a pretty high pain tolerance, and I didn’t know it could get hot enough to actually burn, so I just figured I could stick it out for a while longer. Then when I moved the laptop away (about 3 am, after an hour of use), there were three raised white welts with tiny blisters along the middles and red in between them on my left leg, and three red stripes on my right leg.

    Over the course of the next few hours the blisters kept getting bigger and bigger. By 4 am they were huge and filled with yellow fluid. I had to wear loose yoga pants to work Monday because jeans would have chafed to much. You could see the bumps of the blisters even with the pants on.

    I took a snap shot of the burn with Photo Booth: http://tpettit.best.vwh.net/images/laptop_burn.jpg

    I wish they would have some kind of thermometer inside with a warning on screen that it was getting hot enough to burn.

  • RJ

    I have a compaq, and I think its burnt my left leg (where the heat comes out of the bottom of the laptop) also. Its all red and blotchy.. doesnt hurt, just looked odd and it wont go away. Does anyone have it on just one leg? like their left??

  • Ladies & gentlemen,

    My name’s Daniel and I’m a journalist over at Tech Digest and I’ve just reviewed a really good laptop pillow. I haven’t played with it myself but because it’s made of a lattice structure it looks like it’d work. It allows the air to flow between your computer and your legs.

    I haven’t got a price from the Canadian manufacturers yet but I’ll let you know when they get back to me. Take a look.

    http://techdigest.tv/2008/04/_i_just_stumble.html

    Daniel.

  • Aisling Ireland

    I’m sorry some people don’t believe you. I certainly do as I have experienced the same thing. I think that people have trouble understand how one can receive a burn unnoticed. I think that what happens is that the repeated use of the laptop in the same place creates a cumulative effect. This isn’t a ‘normal’ burn in the sense that one touches something extremely hot and then immediately reacts. This is more along the lines of the frog in the pot of water – turn the heat up slowly and the frog never notices that its getting burned alive.

    My own burn healed in about a month. I was afraid it would stay forever, afraid that I had, perhaps, ‘cooked’ my veins. However, this was not the case and the wound did heal.

    Now that I know what happens I keep something between my leg and the laptop and/or if I am in a place where I haven’t this luxury (flying, etc.) then I make sure to move the laptop to different places on my legs to avoid the subtle frying. 🙂

  • Just an update on my laptop burn: it is eight weeks later, and the scabs on the burn on my left leg finally fell off about a week ago (and no, I did not ever pick at it.) The scars are still dark red, and it is obvious that at least one of them, from the largest blister, will last the rest of my life, although I imagine after about a year it will fade to white. (I already have a long scar across the back of my calf that I got at age 13 which has lasted 40 years, and this one from the laptop burn looks to be just as deep, although much shorter.)

    So this was definitely a real burn.

    Some of my friends tell me I should sue Apple, but I think that’s silly. I would, however, really like to raise the awareness of this danger. There must already be sensors in the computer that monitor the temperature. How hard could it be to make software that would read them and display a warning to move your laptop to a surface allowing air flow when it reached a level capable of causing burns?

  • Rehema

    One night and a burn-
    I always use my Macbook pro at my desk to work. However, since I am traveling and not at my desk I sat in bed checking email last night with my laptop propped on my legs. This morning I wondered why my left leg had a red mark across it. I picked up the laptop to check email this morning and felt my legs hurt when I propped it up again. When I looked I saw that I had blisters on the mark on my left leg and just a red mark on my right leg. Pretty annoying! I guess it slowly heated up last night and cooked my leg without my notice. And, I don’t have a lot of cellulite- I’m in good shape.

  • Jess

    I have the same blotchy burn on my left leg, above my knee, from my MacBook. It’s been there for about 6 months now and doesn’t go away. Even went on a 3 week holiday w/ no laptop use – its still there. Like you, I’ve not noticed it getting hot. Really isn’t too much of a big deal for me at the moment, as my legs don’t warrant short skirts haha, so no one sees it.

  • geni

    I contacted Apple and hey said that the Macbooks should never be placed on your lap EVER and they are made to be placed on a hard surface. LOL I told them it gets so hot that it burns me and well I was thinking there was something wrong with the notebook since it was doing this lol. I cover my legs most of the time now but I have had the marks for 1 year. Oh well guess it was my fault for doing it

  • Phyllis

    I too have a splotchy burn, on my left thigh, where the battery is on my Panasonic laptop. I never used a laptop, until recently, when I had to have one for work. Now, I sit for hours with it in my lap and started noticing the red, blotchy burn. It doesn’t hurt like a regular burn. When I saw it I thought it would go away quickly, like when I have been using a heating pad. Alas, I have to keep using my laptop, day after day, hour after hour and it appears to be getting worse.

    I tried placing a towel on my lap, between my legs and the laptop, but that caused other problems; the laptop got VERY hot then, because the towel just seemed to hold the heat in, even more and the laptop began to act up, freezing, crashing, etc.

    I finally decided to search the internet and see if anyone else was having this issue. It is now Spring and shorts weather. I will know you when I see you in the streets, with your red, blotchy, left legs.

  • alicia Pelletier

    I just found these posts and am wondering if the burns eventually went away. My daughter is 9 years old and has a big blotchy area on her leg that I recently realized was from my macbook. I have contacted apple with no reply. It has been 2 months and it hasn’t diminished at all. Could this be permanent? I am really starting to get very worried. ANy advice would be greatly appreciated.And YES it is the left leg.
    Thanks!

  • It does eventually fade (if you stop using the Macbook on your lap) but it took me more like 10 months. And I’ve been bad about the Macbook again so it comes back much easier than it goes away. 🙁

  • xscarlettex

    I have a laptop..I use it most of the day..I wear jeans..Or pants..Almost never shorts. And i get bright red to dark red burns on my lap through my pants. Once i set my laptop from my legs to a glass table. It shuts down. Its annoying.. I lose all my work. I burn myself. Ive tried using a notebook with huge spirals. To put under neath the laptop. But the laptop is so hot..It doesn’t help. I don’t see the point of getting the thing that goes under neath the laptop fans. Its full of fans. But if the notebook doesn’t help then why should that fan thing help. I have back problems so its way easier to recline with my laptop on my back. Any other ideas?

  • ebear8

    welcome to america, 2009.

    imagine what your head and brain must be going through when you constantly put your cell phone against it.

    toodles!

  • ebear8

    re: laptop as the name used to describe the product.

    you might want to thank marketing for that one. though its a much better name than “fold top”, or in teh case of the burn you and others have acquired, “stove top”.

    yonkers!

  • kmh

    So glad to find these posts. I have obviously burned my thigh by resting my laptop on it. The deep burning sensation started the following day, and now I have a bad rash developing (day 5). Like some of the other posts, the pain is deeper than a skin burn so I am assuming I did some damage to my thigh muscle. Hoping it will heal soon.

  • dradis

    I also have this condition on my left leg as a result of using the white Macbook.

    It’s called Erythema Ab Igne (EAI). It is not a burn or a rash; rather, it is reaction of the skin’s pigmentation to prolonged exposure to heat. (I don’t know what the medical difference is between this and a burn, but apparently there is one.)

    Other facts:

    – in some cases the condition fades over time; in other cases it remains a permanent, disfiguring discoloration.

    – documented cases have shown EAI occurring due to laptop (excuse me, notebook computer) use.

    – EAI has been linked to squamous cell carcinoma in situ – meaning, skin cancer has been shown to occur, with greater than normal frequency, in the location of the condition.

    So, yeah. I’m pretty pissed.

  • Abby

    1st – thank you for this thread. It has all the info I needed!

    I have the same splotches on my left left. I always wear pants when using my white macbook. Now that they are there, my concern is; are they going to go away? It sounds like from this thread that it will take 3 weeks – a few months for it to fade, but beware the splotch comes back quickly.
    Funny thing is I have one of those targus coolers. I don’t use it because it’s cool in my house, and I enjoy the heat from the macbook… that was until I noticed the splotch. It was never hot enough for me to stop, it never itched, it just will look bad in shorts or bathing suits…
    As for that jerk said, “your fat thighs prevent you from realizing your leg is burning” in a really nice, clinical way… that simply is not the case, and quite rude of you to insinuate as you don’t know the BMI of anyone here, nor the rate or consistency of the heat source.
    Thank you dradis for the info on EAI, though it scares me some splotches don’t go away.
    I am now a faithful targus cooler user, as well as a “laptop” addict!

  • Leigh

    I also have this condition on my left leg as a result of using the white Macbook.

    It’s called Erythema Ab Igne (EAI). It is not a burn or a rash; rather, it is reaction of the skin’s pigmentation to prolonged exposure to heat. (I don’t know what the medical difference is between this and a burn, but apparently there is one.)

    Other facts:

    – in some cases the condition fades over time; in other cases it remains a permanent, disfiguring discoloration.

    – documented cases have shown EAI occurring due to laptop (excuse me, notebook computer) use.

    – EAI has been linked to squamous cell carcinoma in situ – meaning, skin cancer has been shown to occur, with greater than normal frequency, in the location of the condition.

    So, yeah. I’m pretty pissed.
    —-

    ditto – I noticed it when I when to the beach this year – it has not gone away and I am NOT a happy camper.

  • Mia

    Ugh, reading some of these comments – particularly the last one by Leigh – is scary. I have this “laptop burn” which-is-not-a-burn – Erythema Ab Igne (EAI) – on my thighs. Now I am absolutely going to STOP using my laptop on my thighs with nothing expect jeans protecting my skin.

    My laptop isn’t uncomfortably hot on my thighs – however one above commenter said that female thighs are an area of the body that is insufficiently sensitive to heat. Wish I’d know that earlier. Really hope the marks go away eventually! Summer is just starting here in New Zealand. The marks on my thighs do seem to fade a bit when I haven’t used my laptop in a week, so I guess they will disappear.

    Leigh said EAI has been linked to Cancer – what?? What else have they been linked to? Varicose veins? I almost don’t want to know… I wonder if people who get EAI easily on their thighs from laptop use are people who are more prone to getting celluloid (whatever that is) or varicose veins or other horrible, painful things.

  • anonymous

    I got a tumor from those burns, theyre from radiation emitted by the computers battery. The tumor was nothing serious, but if you see that consult a doctor, and if its ok it will disapear. It says NOWHERE in the macbook manual about not putting the computer on your lap.

  • gracie

    i dont think its only mac books that does that its prolly all the laptops/notebooks of any kind i have a sony vaio and i recently noticed that my thighs and my veins looks so dark that it almost looks like it bruised from something the first time i notice it was twas my inner thigh and twas only a lil bit so it didnt bother me then when i started puttin my laptop on my lap from time to time a couple of days or a week or two afterwards i just noticed that my veins turned all black and its been awhile now it still hasnt gone away its worse than a stretch mark cause it looks like ive gotten beaten by a paddle on my left thigh..does anyone know if this is just temporary and takes awhile to clear up? i hope it does cause its horrible looking… 🙁

  • Hilary

    I can hardly believe that I have found the answers! I just saw the doctor today and was given a diagnosis of fungal infection. But each of you have exactly the same symptoms and so I am going to take this blog back to the doctor! And I won’t pick up the anti-fungal creme. I had better get my targus cooler out again! I hope these go away.
    Does anyone else notice that they itch a little when they heat up? Would a vitamin E, A, and Aloe creme help? I sure hope there is no definite cancer associated with this. I don’t remember any warnings with my macbook — which is much hotter than my old pc notebook. Maybe the ipad will have cooler technology. Sad face here, too.

  • Kerri

    THANK YOU TO ALL! I had these blotchy spots show up on my right leg a couple of months ago. I didn’t think anything about it because it didn’t itch and it didn’t hurt. It started to show up on my left leg a week or so ago and i got concerned. I finally found this blog and saw dradis and Leigh’s posts. I googled that and found the wikipedia article which shows a picture that looks almost exactly like my thighs! Thank you so much for helping me try and solve my mystery.

  • kate

    Same thing here from mac pro book. There should be a warning given with the product. its not silly-its the law-they are liable.pissed.

  • Your quiz is ruthless. I tried db the first time. Anyway, do you still have a Mac burn? When burns scar for a couple years, it is getting near the hopeless phase! But if so, try putting 100% pure aloe gel right on it. That is, buy an aloe leaf from the grocery store. Filet it and store it in the fridge. Rub some on twice a day for a couple weeks. I would love to hear the outcome of your burns.

  • Tee

    I came across this blog while researching Erythema Ab Igne. I noticed the weird red blotch funnily enough while sat on the loo. It puzzled me but I ignored it for a few weeks. Since it hasn’t gone away I decided to look for answers online and after discounting spider veins and skin rash, I came across images of EAI aka ‘Toasted Skin Syndrome’.

    It is on my left thigh and most definitely due to prolonged periods of using Macbook on my lap. I agree with Kate, Mac are liable! There needs to be a warning to users. The risk of skin cancer and tumour has really freaked me out. I will be stopping laptop use with immediate effect and seeing my GP tomorrow. Hope it’s not permanent. 🙁

  • Barney

    Please don’t feel it’s just your precious, expensive Mac… ordinary laptops do this too. My left leg has a blotchy patch on too and that’s where my vent is, but quite obviously if you keep it on your leg for long enough it’ll burn! But my parents won’t buy me a desk for my room but oh well.