Cholesterol deposits, also known as xanthomas, occur when cholesterol builds up under the skin. A person should not try to pop cholesterol deposits. Instead, they should speak with a doctor, who will be able to remove the growths.

Cholesterol deposits are usually painless, and they can occur in many places on the body. They can sometimes indicate that a person is at higher risk of certain health conditions.

People may wish to remove cholesterol deposits for cosmetic reasons, as they can become large or uncomfortable. There are various methods of removing cholesterol deposits.

Read on to discover more about cholesterol deposits, including why a person should not pop them and the treatment options.

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Cholesterol deposits are skin growths that result from a buildup of cholesterol. They comprise foam cells, which are cells that contain cholesterol.

Cholesterol deposits can occur in many places on the body, including the palms, legs, and eyelids.

Cholesterol deposits are benign, meaning that they are not cancerous and do not spread. However, the development of cholesterol deposits can indicate that a person has unhealthy cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is present in certain foods. The body uses cholesterol in the production of cells, vitamins, and hormones. However, high levels of cholesterol can lead to health problems.

Only a dermatologist or another doctor should remove cholesterol deposits. A person should never try to pop them.

There is little information regarding the effects of picking or popping cholesterol deposits. However, attempting to pop cholesterol deposits could cause:

It is important to note that certain health problems can cause cholesterol deposits, and attempting to pop these growths does not help treat their underlying cause.

Cholesterol deposits can indicate that a person has high levels of cholesterol.

There are many possible causes of cholesterol deposits, including:

  • familial hypercholesterolemia (FH), a genetic condition that causes cholesterol to build up in the bloodstream
  • combined dyslipidemia, a condition in which a person has high blood levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad,” cholesterol and fats called triglycerides
  • hypertriglyceridemia, which is the term for high levels of triglycerides in the blood
  • cerebrotendinous xanthomatosis, a genetic disorder that impairs the body’s ability to break down cholesterol
  • sitosterolemia, a rare condition that causes a buildup of plant fats in a person’s blood vessels
  • obesity
  • diabetes
  • cholestatic liver disease, which causes a buildup of bile
  • nephrotic syndrome, which is a series of symptoms resulting from kidney damage
  • certain medications, such as estrogens, tamoxifen, oral retinoids, prednisolone, and ciclosporin

If a person notices that they have cholesterol deposits, they should speak with their doctor. A person may require treatment for any underlying conditions that are responsible for cholesterol deposits.

The type of cholesterol deposits will determine the symptoms that a person might experience. There are several forms of cholesterol deposits, including:

  • Xanthelasma: A xanthelasma is the most common type of cholesterol deposit. It appears as a flat, yellow-orange growth, and a person may notice several around the eyes and eyelids.
  • Plane xanthoma: Plane xanthomas are soft growths that can form anywhere on the body. If a person has plane xanthomas between their fingers or toes, it could mean that they have FH.
  • Palmar xanthoma: Palmar xanthomas are yellowish markings that occur on the folds of the wrist and palms.
  • Tuberous xanthoma: Tuberous xanthomas are firm masses that grow on the knees, elbows, and heels. Tuberous xanthomas can join together to form larger masses.
  • Tendon xanthoma: Tendon xanthomas are nodules that develop on the tendons of the ankles, elbows, and knuckles. Tendon xanthomas grow slowly underneath the skin and are smooth and firm to the touch.
  • Eruptive xanthoma: Eruptive xanthomas are lesions that typically form in areas such as the shoulders or buttocks. These lesions are usually 2⁠–5 millimeters in size, and they may be tender or itchy. They can be yellow, red, skin colored, or darker than the surrounding skin, depending on the shade of the skin.
  • Verrucous xanthoma: A verrucous xanthoma is a rare form of cholesterol deposit that occurs in the mouth and genitals. In the mouth, verrucous xanthomas can present as pink or red nodules. On the genitals, verrucous xanthomas may appear as yellow-brown or red flat lesions.

A person may be able to prevent cholesterol deposits from forming by keeping their cholesterol levels under control. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that adults with a good health status undergo a cholesterol test every 4–6 years.

However, a person with risk factors for high cholesterol, such as diabetes or heart disease, should undergo more frequent testing.

The American Heart Association (AHA) notes that people may be able to lower their cholesterol levels by:

  • eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts, and poultry
  • reducing the intake of saturated and trans fats
  • limiting the intake of red meat, processed meat, sodium, and sugar
  • getting at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week
  • quitting smoking, if a smoker

If a person has excessive body weight, they may be able to lower their cholesterol levels by taking steps to reach a moderate weight.

Certain conditions that cause high cholesterol levels are genetic. A person with a genetic condition that causes high cholesterol may need to take medication to keep their levels low.

Cholesterol deposits that occur due to underlying health conditions may disappear when a person gets treatment for that condition. In other cases, a person may wish to remove the cholesterol deposits for cosmetic reasons.

Techniques for removing cholesterol deposits include:

  • Topical trichloroacetic acid: A doctor will apply acid to a person’s cholesterol deposits. After 30 seconds to 2 minutes, they will rinse the acid away with cold water and apply an antibiotic ointment.
  • Electrodesiccation and curettage (ED&C): ED&C involves a surgeon scraping or burning off a person’s cholesterol deposits. The surgeon will numb the area, scrape off the cholesterol deposit, and then heat the treated area to seal the wound.
  • Cryotherapy: A doctor will apply a freezing agent to the cholesterol deposit. This agent destroys the cells within the deposit.
  • Laser ablation: During this procedure, a doctor will focus a laser beam onto the cholesterol deposit to burn away the fatty tissue.
  • Excision: Excision is the surgical removal of cholesterol deposits by cutting them out of the skin. A surgeon will use a scalpel or another sharp tool to remove the cholesterol deposit from the person’s body.

Following the removal of a cholesterol deposit, it is possible that it will return. Treating the underlying cause of cholesterol deposits can reduce the likelihood of recurrence.

Cholesterol deposits form due to a buildup of cholesterol underneath a person’s skin. Cholesterol deposits can be a sign of high cholesterol and underlying health problems.

A person should never try to pop cholesterol deposits. Anyone who wants to remove them should speak with a doctor. A doctor can use various methods to get rid of cholesterol deposits.

If a person notices that they have cholesterol deposits, they should speak with their doctor. As high cholesterol can lead to serious health problems, it is important that a person receive treatment as soon as possible.