What Your Skin Can Tell You About Your Cholesterol

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), your skin could be the first warning sign that you have unhealthy levels of cholesterol. One of these warning signs comes in the form of painless, yellowish-orange growths on your skin. ​​Xanthelasma is the medical term for these deposits when found on the eyelids; they are called xanthoma when located elsewhere on the skin. If you notice these discolored growths on your skin, the AAD strongly advises that you consult with a healthcare professional who may recommend testing. If your doctor determines that you have unhealthy levels of cholesterol, this is a sign that you may need treatment to prevent heart disease.

Another clue that you have unhealthy levels of cholesterol is eruptive xanthoma, clusters of waxy bumps that may appear suddenly on the skin. While these bumps may resemble warts or a rash, they are actually fatty deposits resulting from high levels of cholesterol, or triglycerides, in your blood. Seeking treatment for high levels of triglycerides is crucial to manage heart disease and related medical conditions.

This skin condition could also be a sign of high cholesterol

According to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers have also uncovered a strong link between psoriasis — an inflammatory skin disease that causes itchy, red skin — and high cholesterol levels, also called hyperlipidemia (via Northwestern Medicine). The researchers initially discovered this connection through experiments they conducted on a strain of mice they created with a specific class of immune cells and high cholesterol in the blood. "To our surprise, these mice spontaneously developed skin lesions, which were caused by the activation of self-lipid reactive T-cells only under conditions of hyperlipidemia. The skin disease closely matched the symptoms and progression of psoriasis in humans," Chyung-Ru Wang, professor of Microbiology-Immunology, told Northwestern Medicine.

The authors of the study conducted a separate experiment examining psoriasis in humans and found elevated levels of the same immune cells. The findings of these experiments are important because they not only help provide insight into the link between high cholesterol and certain auto-immune diseases, but also provide a path toward developing treatments for psoriasis and other inflammatory diseases associated with high cholesterol.