Too much cholesterol is circulating in your blood, which is a common condition of high cholesterol. Cholesterol can build up in your arteries and cause them to narrow, which can affect your heart rate. This can cause a heart attack or stroke.

High cholesterol doesn’t usually cause symptoms unless it leads to a complication. This means that you often don’t know you have high cholesterol until a doctor tests your blood for it.

But high levels of circulating fats (cholesterol and triglycerides) can sometimes lead to noticeable skin changes. The first clue that you have high cholesterol may come in an unexplained set of bumps, patches of soft yellowish skin, or discoloration on your extremities.

These skin symptoms are a sign that you need to manage your cholesterol levels.

Here’s a rundown of how uncontrolled high cholesterol, including familial hypercholesterolemia, can affect your skin and what to do about it.

Cholesterol: How high is too high?

A cholesterol panel can tell you the total amount of cholesterol in your body.

  • The optimal level is below 200.
  • borderline high cholesterol is possible if you have between 200 and 240 s/dL.
  • High cholesterol levels are indicated by levels at more than 200 s/dL.

As of 2022, more than 94 million Americans over the age of 20 had borderline high or high cholesterol. Experts suspect many more have it but aren’t diagnosed.

Too much cholesterol can accumulate under the skin. This can cause a rash of fat.

Cholesterol can also block tiny blood vessels called capillaries that supply oxygen to the skin. This can cause the surface of your skin to change color. It may also contribute to skin conditions such as psoriasis.

High cholesterol can sometimes lead to a more serious condition called cholesterol embolism. That’s when a crystal of cholesterol plaque breaks off and blocks a vein or artery. This can lead to skin ulcers or other complications.

Identifying the condition is the first step in addressing cholesterol-related skin problems. You can treat the underlying causes, including cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

High levels of cholesterol and triglycerides can cause skin conditions. Here are a few of the most common.


The skin, tissues underneath the skin, and tendons are affected by Xanthomas. There are several categories of xanthoma.

  • Eruptive xanthoma: the sudden appearance of what appears to be a rash of several bumps on your skin, filled with fatty deposits of cholesterol
  • Tuberous or tendinous xanthomas: nodules often found on the knuckles, knees, elbows, and buttocks
  • Verrucous xanthomas: wart-like xanthomas in the inside lining of your mouth or sometimes on the genitals
  • Planar xanthomas: flat or slightly elevated patches at any part of the body


Xanthelasma is the most common type of planar xanthoma. It is a soft patch of yellowish bumps around your eyes, usually around the corners of your eyes closest to your nose. It’s more common on the upper lid than the lower lid, but it can affect both.


Psoriasis is an inflammatory skin condition that causes raised, red, itchy patches of skin due to unusually fast turnover of skin cells. It’s a chronic autoimmune disorder that causes an inflammatory response in your body. It can affect your blood vessels, causing a higher risk of heart disease.

According to 2017 research, there’s also a link between psoriasis and high cholesterol levels. Researchers aren’t yet sure why that is. If you have psoriasis, you may want to consider having your cholesterol and triglyceride levels checked.

Cholesterol embolism

A cholesterol embolism occurs when crystals made up of cholesterols and other substances break free from plaques in one of your large arteries. They then travel through your circulatory system before becoming lodged in a smaller artery or blood vessel.

This can cause damage and skin symptoms by blocking the flow of blood.

  • Leg blisters.
  • skin is discolored
  • Gangrene.
  • The toes are either blue or purple.
  • Livedo reticularis.

Livedo reticularis

Livedo reticularis is a bluish-red mottling of the skin in a netlike pattern. It usually shows up on the thighs, feet, toes, buttocks, lower legs, or other extremities. Many things can cause the pattern, including cholesterol embolism.

“If it doesn’t go away on its own, you should contact a doctor. You may need to get medical attention.”

Your eyes may also be trying to tell you something

If you are younger than 45 and have noticed a ring around your iris that wasn’t there before, you may be developing corneal arcus.

It is a ring made of deposits at the outer edge of your eye. It is common after middle age, but if you develop it before 45 you may be at risk for high cholesterol or a family history of it.

High cholesterol can cause a number of life threatening conditions. It is advisable to make an appointment with a healthcare professional to check your cholesterol levels.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends cholesterol testing starting at age 20 and every 5 years after for people at low risk for cardiovascular disease. People with cardiovascular disease or its risk factors should test for cholesterol more often.

The underlying cause of your skin condition is the key to treating it. Your healthcare team can help you identify your condition, alert you of potential risks, and recommend ways to manage your symptoms.

If your cholesterol is high, your healthcare team will recommend lifestyle changes.

They may also recommend cholesterol-lowering medications if needed.

The American Heart Association recommends several key ways to lower or prevent high cholesterol:

“Millions of people have high cholesterol, but some don’t know they have it.”

Too much cholesterol and fat in your blood can cause problems in your arteries. This can lead to life threatening conditions like heart disease. It can lead to a lot of skin conditions.

If you notice fatty deposits under your skin, yellowish bumps, patches around your eyes, or mild to severe skin is discolored, you might have a skin condition related to high cholesterol.

It is important to check your cholesterol levels with your healthcare team. If your doctor thinks that high cholesterol is causing your skin condition, he or she can recommend medication or lifestyle changes to help you and your skin stay healthy.