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Everything in moderation and heated seats are no exception. The use of butt warmers may ease frosty commutes, but doctors warn that prolonged exposure to heated seats could lead to a skin condition known as "erythema ab igne" or "toasted skin syndrome."
Recently, doctors have been writing in the Archives of Dermatology about a skin condition they call "erythema ab igne" or "toasted skin syndrome." Apparently, extended use of butt warmers can lead to this unsightly rash-like skin condition. This skin disorder is caused by exposure to heat but it is not a skin burn. Erythema ab igne is more of a discoloration of the skin, with rusty brown reticulated patches over the parts of the backside exposed to the butt warmer or heated seat.

Dr. Laila I. Alotaibi, MD conveys that erythema ab igne (EAI) is characterized by localized areas of discoloration and hyperpigmentation due to repeated exposure to infrared radiation. Another term used to describe this condition is "fire stains." What happens is that initially the toasted skin presents with a mildly reddened appearance but after repeated heat exposures, the classic purple, blue, or brown hyperpigmentation develops on the skin.

The authors of these studies report that being exposed to the heat leads to the discolored skin even if the heat is not scalding hot. In one case, a 67 year old woman developed red lines on the back region of her legs. Pictures of this woman’s legs showed the discoloration, which showed how her left leg had more odd color markings when compared to the right leg that was extended to operate the pedals in the car. Dr. Brian Adams, the woman’s dermatologist and a representative for the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in Ohio, reported that this condition is common during the winter months.

The two women described in the studies drove and used butt warmers for 45 minutes or more every day for extended periods. And butt warmers are not the only things that can cause toasted skin syndrome either. Erythema ab igne could be caused by heating pads, hot laptops, hot water bottles, and other hot devices that are left on the skin for long periods of time.

According to specialists, this condition is related to some blood vessel changes that cause changes to occur in the pigment cells, making the skin blotchy and discolored. The harm is purely cosmetic, however, as no internal organs are affected and the skin remains intact and not actually burned.

Dr. Adams does warn that while the condition is not dangerous or life-threatening it can mimic other health conditions, leading to unnecessary testing if the doctor does not recognize it as toasted skin. Consumer Reports published an article a year ago that found some heated carseats got too hot and could burn the skin. This publication described how an Oregon law firm was handing some cases of people who had been burned by butt warmers and heated seats.

The treatment is simple:  avoidance. People who suffer with this skin condition should not go back to using a heated source and the discoloration will eventually fade. Also, to prevent toasted skin condition, people are advised to use seat heaters in moderation and to keep the temperature at a reasonable "warm" setting rather than maximum heat.