Xanthelasma and Xanthoma

Alternative names
Skin growths - fatty


Xanthelasma and Xanthoma are skin conditions with fat beneath the surface of the skin.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Xanthomas are common skin disorders, particularly among older adults and persons with elevated blood lipids (fat levels).

Xanthomas are deposits of fatty materials under the surface of the skin ranging in size from very small to more than 3 inches in diameter. They may be a symptom of underlying metabolic disorders that are associated with an increase in blood lipids, including diabetes, primary biliary cirrhosis, some types of cancer, and inherited metabolic disorders including familial hypercholesterolemia (inherited tendency to High cholesterol levels). They can appear anywhere on the body, but commonly appear on the elbows, joints, tendons, knees, hands, feet, or buttocks.

Xanthelasma palpebra is a common type of xanthoma that appears on the eyelids.


  • skin lesion or bumps under the skin (nodules)       o with a flat surface       o soft to the touch       o yellow color       o sharply defined margins (sharp, distinct borders)

Signs and tests
The diagnosis is primarily on how the skin growth looks, especially if there is a history of an underlying disorder. A biopsy of the growth will show a fatty deposit.

The goal of treatment is to control underlying disorders to reduce the development of xanthelasmas and xanthomas. The growths can be surgically removed if they become bothersome, but they may reappear.

Expectations (prognosis)
Xanthelasmas and xanthomas are painless and benign. They may indicate underlying disorders. They may be cosmetically disfiguring.

Psychological distress from cosmetic changes is the main complication.

Calling your health care provider
Call your health care provider if xanthomas develop. They may indicate an underlying disorder that needs treatment.

Control of blood lipids, including triglycerides and cholesterol levels, may help to reduce development of xanthelasmas and xanthomas. Control of underlying disorders will help reduce development.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 3, 2012
by Gevorg A. Poghosian, Ph.D.

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