• What is xanthelasma?

    Written By:
    Reviewed By: Rona Z Silkiss MD FACS
    May. 12, 2021

    Xanthelasma are yellow growths on or near the eyelids. They can be flat or slightly raised. They form when deposits of cholesterol (lipid or fat) build up under the skin. While xanthelasma themselves are not harmful, they can be a sign of heart disease.

    What causes xanthelasma?

    Some think xanthelasma is linked to having high cholesterol levels (fat in blood) passed down from parents. This is because up to half of those with xanthelasma have high cholesterol. But the other half have normal cholesterol. So, some think other causes such as inflammation lead to xanthelasma.

    Who is at risk for xanthelasma?

    Anyone can get xanthelasma. But you are more likely to get it if you:

    Xanthelasma is also more common in women and those of Asian or Mediterranean descent.

    How is xanthelasma diagnosed?

    A doctor can tell if you have xanthelasma by looking at the skin around your eyes. They may order a test to check the levels of lipids in your blood. This can show if there is a potential health issue causing your xanthelasma.

    How is xanthelasma treated?

    Xanthelasma do not go away on their own. They tend to stay the same size or grow larger. While they are generally harmless, you may want to remove them for cosmetic reasons. Xanthelasma is treated by removing the deposit with:

    • extreme cold or freezing surgery (called cryotherapy)
    • laser surgery
    • traditional surgery to remove and repair the skin
    • extreme heat surgery (electric needle)
    • chemical peels

    Most treatments are successful in removing xanthelasma. But there are potential side effects like:

    • scarring
    • change in skin color

    Also, xanthelasma can return after surgery.

    What can I do to prevent xanthelasma?

    Take steps to manage your cholesterol with diet, exercise, and in some cases, cholesterol-lowering medication. This can help prevent xanthelasma from coming back—and improve your overall health. Here are some ways to lower your cholesterol:

    • Avoid saturated fats (like butter, fried food and fatty meats) in your diet.
    • Exercise every day if you can. Even a brisk walk for 30 minutes is helpful.
    • Avoid smoking or quit if you can.
    • Drink less alcohol.

    Xanthelasma can be a sign of early heart disease

    Xanthelasma may signal that cholesterol is building up in your blood vessels. This blocks blood flow and can lead to a stroke or a heart attack. To lower your risk of heart problems, see your doctor for regular checkups. They can work with you to keep you heart healthy.