Can You Pop Cholesterol Deposits?

Have you considered clinical trials for Cholesterol?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Cholesterol, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

What are cholesterol deposits?

Cholesterol deposits are the accumulation of cholesterol — a type of fat — all over your body. Though they can be found in any organ system in your body, they are most commonly noticed under the skin and surrounding tendons. 

The cholesterol deposits themselves are benign, which means they likely won’t cause you harm. However, they are often related to hypertriglyceridemia or hypercholesterolemia, which are states of high blood triglyceride levels and high blood cholesterol levels. 

Because of this connection, you should visit the doctor after noticing cholesterol deposits. After a blood test and other tests, you could potentially be diagnosed with a condition such as hyperlipidemia, heart disease, or diabetes. 

Due to this, these cholesterol deposits are often used as an indicator of high cholesterol and chronic disease. They can be an important indicator of heart disease or diabetes, especially if you don’t get regular blood tests, as these conditions often show no obvious symptoms until you are seriously unwell. 

Can you pop cholesterol deposits?

While they may look like juicy pimples or blisters, you should not try to pop your cholesterol deposits. In most cases, treating the underlying cause, such as hypercholesterolemia or hypertriglyceridemia, will help your cholesterol deposits go away. 

There may be circumstances where you want to get your cholesterol deposits “popped” or removed. But this should only be done by a qualified medical professional. 

Trying to pop cholesterol deposits on your own could be painful and lead to infection and scarring. 

What are xanthomas?

Xanthomas is the medical term for cholesterol deposits. 


Xanthomas present as red or yellowish pimples or blister-like bumps under the skin. They can form in clusters or be spread out over the body. They also range in size from the size of a small pimple to larger flat blister-like lumps. It is also common for them to appear irritated and inflamed. 

They are commonly found on tendons such as the Achilles, knees, and elbows, but they can also be present on the buttocks, around the eyes (called xanthelasma), and in other places on the body. These xanthomas deposits can also be present on your internal organs but are much less likely to be detected. 

Xanthomas developing on tendons can cause pain. But otherwise, there are no notable symptoms of the deposits themselves. You may experience symptoms related to other conditions from the underlying cause of the xanthomas, which include: 

  • Diabetes, with symptoms including increased thirst and need to urinate, unintentional weight loss, dizziness, and numbness/tingling in the hands or feet

  • Heart disease, with symptoms including pressure, pain, or tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, and pain in the arms, neck, or jaw, often leading to heart attacks, strokes, or cardiac arrest 



In most cases, hyperlipidemia will be the cause of xanthomas. Hyperlipidemia is when you have high levels of fat in your blood. These fats include cholesterol and triglycerides, so the terms hypertriglyceridemia and hypercholesterolemia are often also used. 

If you have this condition, this high amount of fat gets carried throughout your body in your bloodstream and can build up in your arteries, organs, tendons, and skin. 

This buildup of cholesterol, which is the cause of xanthomas, is also the underlying cause of some forms of heart disease and is related to metabolic syndrome and the development of type two diabetes. 

This state of high blood cholesterol/fat can be caused by several genetic and lifestyle factors. 

Genetic factors

Xanthomas are related to multiple chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity — all of which have a link to genetic factors. These links are not always well understood, but it's been found that you are often more likely to develop these conditions if a close family member, like a parent or sibling, has them.

If you notice any xanthomas on your body, it may indicate a genetic disorder where your body cannot process cholesterol properly. These genetic disorders include: 

  • Familial hypercholesterolemia.¹ This disorder involves your body’s inability to process LDL–cholesterol, the “bad” cholesterol, leading to high blood cholesterol levels and the formation of xanthomas. The symptoms of this disorder range in intensity depending on your individual genetics, so they can often go undiagnosed for several years.

  • Cerebrotendinous xanthomatosis.² This disorder involves the inability to break down cholesterol and other fats in the body, bringing about high blood cholesterol levels, which leads to xanthomas forming. With this disorder, the xanthomas are mainly found on tendons and in the brain, which will cause tendons and progressive neurological problems. Due to the seriousness of this condition, if you have this genetic disorder, you will have been diagnosed during infancy.

  • Sitosterolemia.³ This rare genetic disorder involves the inability to break down certain fats from plants, called plant sterols. It leads to elevated plant sterol and cholesterol levels in the blood, resulting in xanthomas. Symptoms for this disorder can show at any age, so if you are at the doctor for xanthomas under your skin, ask about sitosterolemia. 

Lifestyle factors

How you live your life, including the food you eat and the amount of physical activity you do, can potentially impact your risk of developing hyperlipidemia and xanthomas. Diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease, which are all linked⁴ to hyperlipidemia and related to xanthomas, can be influenced by diet and physical activity.

The amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in your diet can affect your blood cholesterol levels. This means that if you have a high-fat diet from foods such as red meat, full–fat dairy, and processed foods, it may potentially impact your xanthomas.


Some medications that you may be taking for other health conditions may be causing xanthomas to form because they cause elevated fat levels in your blood. Some examples include tamoxifen⁵ and olanzapine.⁶  


Other medical conditions associated with xanthomas are:

  • Hypothyroidism

  • Pancreatitis

  • Conditions affecting the liver, such as primary biliary cirrhosis

  • Nephrotic syndrome (damaged blood vessels in the kidneys)

  • Some rare blood conditions such as monoclonal gammopathy metabolic lipid disorders

  • In the rare case, some cancers


Your doctor can diagnose cholesterol deposits. As the deposits are often an indicator of an underlying metabolic disorder, your doctor will want to do some further tests to find out what could be the underlying cause. Due to this, a diagnosis of cholesterol deposits could be accompanied by — following further testing — a diagnosis of any number of disorders, including:

  • Hyperlipidemia

  • Familial hypercholesterolemia 

  • Heart disease 

  • Type two diabetes 

  • Obesity 

  • Cerebrotendinous xanthomatosis 

  • Sitosterolemia 

Ways to pop cholesterol deposits

1. Laser ablation

Laser treatment has been shown to be effective at removing xanthomas around the eyes with no scarring. Xanthomas removed using this method may still come back after treatment. 

2. Topical trichloroacetic acid

This topical treatment can be used on xanthomas to improve their appearance. People tend to have mixed outcomes, with some experiencing recurring symptoms and some experiencing hypopigmentation. For most people, one to two applications of this treatment is enough to see results. 

3. Cryotherapy

This treatment involves the use of liquid nitrogen to remove the xanthomas. Some research⁷ suggests that this method has a lower rate of recurrence but does cause permanent hyperpigmentation. 

4. Electrodesiccation and curettage (ED&C)

This method removes the xanthomas by cutting them out and cauterizing the wounds using electrical currents, generating heat. Side effects include potential pigmentation, scarring, and infection. 

When you should see a doctor

Xanthomas developing on the skin can be worrying and cause some anxiety or low self-esteem due to their pimple- or cyst-like appearance. It is important that if you feel like they are affecting your health in any way, including your mental, emotional, or social health, you consult your doctor.

As xanthomas can indicate another condition in your body that has potentially gone unnoticed up until this point, if you suspect xanthomas is what you are experiencing, you should seek medical care. A doctor will be able to determine if you have any genetic or metabolic disorders and will be able to get you the treatment that you need.

The lowdown

Xanthomas, or cholesterol deposits, are not harmful. However, they are often related to other health conditions, including chronic diseases and genetic disorders. Due to this, xanthomas can be an important indicator of disease in your body.

You should not try to pop your xanthomas yourself, but there are some methods that your doctor may use to help remove them. The treatment of the underlying hyperlipidemia can, in some cases, work to remove the xanthomas. In situations where treating the underlying cause doesn’t work, some techniques can remove the xanthomas, either physically or using topical treatments.

  1. Familial hypercholesterolemia: A complex genetic disease with variable phenotypes (2020)

  2. Cerebrotendinous xanthomatosis | Rare Diseases

  3. Sitosterolemia | Rare Diseases

  4. Prevalence of obesity, type II diabetes mellitus, hyperlipidemia, and hypertension in the United States: Findings from the GE centricity electronic medical record database (2010)

  5. Tamoxifen-induced hypertriglyceridemia causing acute pancreatitis (2016)

  6. Dermatology E-book - Jean L. Bolognia, Joseph L. Jorizzo, Julie V. Schaffer | Google Books

  7. Cryosurgery for xanthomas (2016)

Other sources:

Have you considered clinical trials for Cholesterol?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Cholesterol, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Discover which clinical trials you are eligible for

Do you want to know if there are any clinical trials you might be eligible for?
Have you been diagnosed with a medical condition?
Have you considered joining a clinical trial?

Editor’s picks

Latest news