For most people, a good laptop is an essential part of living in an increasingly mobile (and constantly switched-on) world. But it’s not often that we stop and consider what we’re actually doing when using a laptop for its designed purpose; that is, placing a large electronic device that emits heat and electromagnetic radiation directly over your crotch area.
When put bluntly like this it sounds like a radical practice, but this is what many of us actually do with the aptly-named device (and often on a daily basis.) But how much danger does such a ubiquitous object realistically pose? Surely all the warnings about extended laptop usage are just a tempest in a teacup?
Unfortunately this is not the case. As more evidence pours in, it appears that there’s a good reason why you can find stickers on the underside of most new laptops that state:
“Warning. Do not block the outlet of fan grill. Place the machine on hard surface only. Caution: This surface is hot. Avoid body contact and do not place this notebook on your lap while it is operating.”
So let’s drill down into these warnings and discuss how serious the issue really is.
“Toasted Skin Syndrome”
If you do a quick Google image search for terms like ‘laptop heat burn’, you’ll come across some gruesome images (which we won’t republish here) of extremely nasty burn injuries. Whether these are staged photos or genuine injuries caused by a malfunctioning laptop literally catching fire is uncertain, but they’re not representative of the kind of heat damage we’re looking at here.
Instead, excessive laptop usage can cause more of a ‘toasting’ affect, due to which it has earned the medically adopted term ‘toasted skin syndrome’. And while it’s not as dramatic as an all-out burn, it is as unpleasant as it sounds. Akin to prolonged exposure to the sun, the darkened, mottled patch of skin which those afflicted are left with is unsightly. Moreover, it can be (and usually is) permanent.
And like prolonged sun exposure, ‘toasted skin syndrome’ caused by laptop usage can give rise to skin cancer – in particular, squamous cell cancer.
According to a dermatology chief in Chicago, while there have been no confirmed cases so far, the risk is very real and the likelihood of developing this aggressive form of skin cancer is elevated for those who contract toasted skin syndrome.
The dangers of heat-related injury are gradually being better understood and publicized now that laptops have become commonplace. But there’s a more subtle danger that often goes unreported; and while it may be less tangible than external burns, it’s no less serious.
There are three main types of radiation emitted by laptops and their WiFi components, including any nearby routers they’re connected to:
- Electromagnetic field radiation (EMF)
- Electromagnetic radiation (EMR)
- Radiofrequency radiation (RF)
The adverse symptoms of these types of radiation have been covered extensively, particularly when it comes to WiFi. While it is true that these harmful fields surround us virtually all the time, the side effects of exposure are greatly elevated when you’re close to the source of the radiation. Since laptop casing is not adequate to block the radiation emanating from the internal components, it’s no surprise that some experts are advising against putting such an EMF source so close to one’s body.
Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) radiation is another concern here; health professionals recommend keeping exposure to ELFs under 3mG (milliGauss) and ideally under 1mG, whereas a standard laptop at contact level emits anywhere between 90mG to 175mG. This is only really a concern when using a laptop over a long period of time, but as any student or gamer will tell you, it’s not uncommon to spend at least a couple of hours glued to the screen.
This all said, we’re fortunate in that it isn’t overly difficult to remedy this situation. Reducing your laptop usage is a preferable, but if that is not an option there are still some easy preventative measures you can take.
Tips to Mitigate the Dangers
- Common sense is paramount here – if you can physically feel the heat emanating from the underside of your laptop, it’s not a good idea to have it on your lap.
- Do clean your air filters with a soft cloth and a can of compressed air from time to time. Not only will this help reduce the temperature it kicks out, but it will also improve its performance and longevity.
- Put something between you and the laptop, preferably some distance and the surface of a desk, since this reduces just about all of the risks that are associated with laptop usage. If you must sit with it on your lap, use a pillow.
- In addition to safeguarding yourself against heat damage, using your laptop on a desk helps cut down on exposure to EMFs. Experts suggest using it at a distance of at least 30cm away, but of course this does move your hands out of direct contact. With this in mind, try to use an external USB keyboard and mouse whenever possible.
- To further help combat the dangers posed by WiFi radiation, consider EarthCalm’s portable Torus in order to maximize protection. This has been independently studied, tested and recommended by the IIREC (Research on Electromagnetic Compatibility) institute.
Closing note: if you’re concerned about the temperature of your laptop, free software is available to monitor exactly how hot it’s running. Under 50° Celsius is optimal, though some modern models can handle up to around 70° and this is normal for high-powered processors. If it’s running at anywhere around 100°, this should be a concern regardless of the model.