Q: I've been hearing all about toasted skin syndrome in the news. What exactly does that mean? And how can I keep my laptop cool enough so that I don't have to worry about it?

A: Toasted skin syndrome is a name for the discoloration of the skin that results from long-term exposure to a heat source. The syndrome is most often associated with professions that require workers to stand for hours next to extreme sources of heat, such as baking or glass blowing.

After it was noticed that several cases resembling traditional toasted skin syndrome caused by laptops had been reported in medical journals over the past several years, a number of news outlets picked up the story. While the condition is generally harmless, it can cause permanent darkening of the skin and, in rare cases, lead to cancer. One way to avoid this, of course, is to keep that hot laptop off of your skin.

But, if working from the couch or on the train is too important to you, there are other options.

Basic maintenance is the first step and should be done with some regularity because hot laptops aren't only bad for your legs, they're also bad for the laptop components. Clean the air intake vents (usually located in the front of your case) and the exhaust vents in the back to increase airflow that aids in cooling. And then check your fans. Opening up the case and checking on the fans manually might void your warranty, so it's best to check the website of your laptop manufacturer and see if they have a free diagnostic tool for this purpose that you can download.

If your laptop is still running hot or you're still worried about toasted skin syndrome, you can purchase accessories that will help with cooling. Mats absorb the heat that comes out of your machine and some even have additional fans built in. If you don't want to purchase a laptop stand or mat, a cheap alternative will often do the trick: Just find something that will prop the back end of your laptop off of your legs.

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