Q. What causes xanthomas and how can I get rid of them? Is it true you can poke them with a needle and massage the fat out, or put fresh-cut garlic cloves on them?
A. Flat, fatty deposits under the skin or associated with tendons, xanthomas (from the Greek for “yellow”) are fairly common, especially among older people. They are usually soft and pale yellow or reddish and have distinct edges; they range in size from tiny to large (3 inches or more). There are different types, depending on where they are, what causes them and what they look like. Typically the lumps or nodules occur on elbows, knees and other joints, as well as eyelids.
Xanthomas are usually a sign that a person has high cholesterol or high triglycerides (fats in the blood), which is not surprising since xanthomas contain these lipids. People with diabetes are prone to develop certain kinds of xanthomas, perhaps because they often have lipid abnormalities.
The lumps usually don’t itch or cause pain and are harmless. Sometimes they go away on their own. If you want to have them removed, a dermatologist can do so with a scalpel, laser therapy or a topical acid. They may come back, however. Xanthomas should be considered a warning sign that you need to get your blood lipids under control. Controlling abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels via diet or medication can help shrink xanthomas and prevent future development.
Though some people claim that garlic helps reduce xanthomas, we could find no evidence that it would help, nor is there any reason to think it could. Do not attempt to lance them with a needle, since that could cause infection.