While rare, high cholesterol levels may present as yellowish patches or bumps on the mid-upper and lower eyelids just under the skin. A doctor may recommend minimally-invasive surgery, medication, or lifestyle modifications to treat the underlying cause.

A person can also use lasers and other cosmetic treatments to minimize these lesions.

This article discusses the signs of high cholesterol on the face, treatments for high cholesterol, and more.

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People with high cholesterol or high triglycerides, also called hyperlipidemia, may show facial symptoms.

For example, some people with hyperlipidemia may develop painless, soft-to-firm yellowish patches or bumps on the eyelids called xanthelasmas.

Researchers associate high cholesterol levels with other inflammatory dermatological conditions, including lichen planus and psoriasis.

Additionally, high cholesterol may present as a gray ring in the eye called a corneal arcus. This is especially true for those with a family history of high cholesterol.

However, the only way to know if a person has high cholesterol levels is via a blood test and lipid panel.

Research from 2022 suggests that high blood cholesterol levels can increase a person’s risk of:

Xanthomas are firm, waxy-appearing skin lesions that occur due to a buildup of cholesterol, causing cholesterol deposits under the skin’s surface. They can appear as small bumps, nodules, or benign tumors that enlarge over time.

Xanthomas present on the eyelids are called xanthelasmas or xanthelasma palpebrarum. They may appear on the upper and lower eyelids or in the corners of the eyes.

Although not everyone with high cholesterol has xanthelasmas, high cholesterol levels can cause them.

Most people with high cholesterol do not develop xanthelasmas, and they are not necessarily a sign of high cholesterol. Nevertheless, a doctor will check the cholesterol levels of anyone presenting with xanthelasmas.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), a corneal arcus can signal very high cholesterol.

A corneal arcus is a grayish-white ring around the cornea of the eye. The cornea is the transparent section that covers the iris and the pupil.

It mostly develops in people who have a family history of high cholesterol.

Lichen planus (LP) is a common condition that causes an itchy rash on the skin or inside the mouth.

Researchers have linked lichen planus to dyslipidemia or high lipid levels, which can include high cholesterol.

A 2020 study found that, out of 148 people, those with LPs had higher serum levels of triglycerides, total cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.

The most common symptoms are shiny purple or red bumps that may itch. They can appear anywhere on the body, including the face, but are most likely to present on the wrists, arms, back, and ankles.

If they are inside the mouth, a person may notice white, lacy patches of small dots on the tongue or inside the cheeks. A person may feel a burning sensation in the mouth.

However, LP can be present without any symptoms.

Although some evidence shows a correlation between LP and high cholesterol, not everyone with LP will have elevated cholesterol levels.

Psoriasis is an immune-mediated condition that causes thick, scaly patches on the skin. They commonly occur on the scalp, knees, elbows, and lower back, but they can occur on the face.

On lighter skin, the patches may appear pink or red. On darker skin, psoriasis patches may be darker or have a purplish color.

People with psoriasis usually experience symptoms that alternate between flares — during which they are intense — and remission, when symptoms reduce.

According to a 2016 study, high cholesterol levels can activate the IL-17A gene and cause a buildup of keratinocytes.

Eruptive xanthoma is a rare skin condition that causes small lesions to appear on the skin.

Eruptive xanthoma presents as multiple pink, reddish, or yellow bumps anywhere on the skin, but usually on the elbows, hands, and knees. This is a sign of very high triglycerides, which puts a person at risk of acute pancreatitis.

It can also appear on the face, including the cheeks, forehead, and upper eyelids.

Research from 2016 suggests that about 10% of people with high cholesterol will develop the condition.

Research from 2015 has linked high cholesterol to several other inflammatory skin conditions, such as histiocytosis, granuloma annulare, and pemphigus vulgaris or pemphigus foliaceus.

Some medications for dermatological conditions can also increase triglycerides and cholesterol.

A person with these conditions should contact a doctor about their cholesterol levels. A doctor may be able to provide regular lipid panels and recommend ways to decrease cholesterol.

The NHLBI notes that high levels of LDL cholesterol do not usually cause symptoms.

Most people are unaware they have high cholesterol until after a blood cholesterol test.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that adults ages 20 years and older get cholesterol and traditional risk factors testing every 4–6 years.

After the age of 40 years, a healthcare professional may wish to assess their risk factors for high cholesterol. They may then recommend more frequent testing.

The AHA also advises that people with a high risk for high cholesterol, such as those with cardiovascular disease or a family history of high cholesterol, may require frequent testing.

Testing cholesterol levels can also help a medical professional calculate a person’s lifetime cardiovascular risk.

Doctors use a complete cholesterol or lipid panel test to check a person’s blood cholesterol levels. The doctor will draw blood from a person’s vein and evaluate a person’s cholesterol level.

Doctors consider a reading below 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) desirable. High cholesterol is a reading of 240 mg/dL or above. A reading of 200–239 mg/dL is borderline high.

The NHLBI states that high cholesterol may be due to the following factors:

  • Diet: Eating foods high in saturated fat can elevate blood cholesterol levels.
  • Lifestyle: Lifestyle habits such as smoking, stress, lack of physical activity, and drinking alcohol in excess can increase cholesterol levels.
  • Certain medications: Some medications that doctors recommend for treating heart conditions, cancer, and inflammations can reduce a person’s high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, often known as “good” cholesterol.
  • Family history: A family history of high cholesterol, known as familial hypercholesterolemia, can increase a person’s risk of the condition.
  • Other medical conditions: People with certain medical conditions, including diabetes, chronic kidney disease, obesity, and sleep apnea, are more likely to develop high cholesterol.

A doctor will recommend the following options to treat high cholesterol.

Medications

A doctor can prescribe the following medications to lower a person’s high cholesterol:

  • statins, which are medications that reduce cholesterol by slowing down the liver’s cholesterol production
  • bile acid sequestrants, which block the absorption of bile acid
  • niacin, which acts by raising HDL cholesterol and lowering LDL cholesterol
  • fibrates, which reduce triglyceride production in the liver
  • injectable medications such as PCSK9 inhibitors that reduce cholesterol-increasing LDL receptors

Lifestyle modifications

A person can help manage their cholesterol by:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 94 million adults have total cholesterol levels above 200 mg/dL, of which 28 million have cholesterol above 240 mg/dL.

Research from 2019 indicates that drug therapy can offer significant benefits for people with new-onset and recurrent heart conditions due to high cholesterol.

A 2021 study showed that lifestyle modification is an effective complementary therapy in treating high cholesterol.

This section answers common questions about signs of high cholesterol on the face.

How do you get rid of cholesterol deposits on the face?

If a person has cholesterol deposits on the face, they should avoid trying to pop it. Rather, they should first speak with a doctor who will help remove the growth. This can be a dermatologist or another doctor.

A medical professional can remove cholesterol deposits through excision, laser ablation, cryotherapy, electrodesiccation, or chemical peels. However, they can reoccur and are difficult to treat.

A doctor may try to treat the underlying cause to reduce the likelihood of recurrence.

What are the warning signs of high cholesterol?

High cholesterol typically does not cause any symptoms. Without treatment, it can lead to a buildup of plaques in the arteries, which can cause a stroke or a heart attack.

For this reason, people should consider regular cholesterol testing.

While high cholesterol may be asymptomatic, it can appear on the face as xanthomas, psoriasis, lichen planus, eruptive xanthoma, or as a corneal arcus.

Additionally, researchers link high cholesterol to several other inflammatory skin conditions, such as histiocytosis, granuloma annular, and pemphigus. Some medications for dermatological conditions can also increase triglycerides and cholesterol.

If a person notices any rashes or yellowish bumps on the face or body, they should contact a doctor, especially if they have a family history of high cholesterol.

The doctor will order a test to rule out high cholesterol or triglycerides and determine the best treatment.