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Sarcoidosis and your skin: Overview


What is sarcoidosis?
Sarcoidosis is a rare disease that causes non-cancerous growths. These growths can develop on the skin and inside the body. On the skin, these growths can look like other skin diseases. That’s why diagnosing sarcoidosis on the skin often requires a board-certified dermatologist’s expertise.

Is sarcoidosis contagious?
No. You cannot catch this disease. If you have sarcoidosis, you cannot spread it to anyone.

In the United States, Black people have a higher risk of developing sarcoidosis than people of other races and Black women have the highest risk.

Worldwide, women have a slightly higher risk of developing this disease than men.

Black women laughing over coffee.

What is cutaneous sarcoidosis?

When sarcoidosis develops on the skin, it’s called cutaneous (affects the skin) sarcoidosis or skin sarcoidosis. Signs you may have cutaneous sarcoidosis include:

  • Small bumps on your skin that can be reddish brown, purple, brown, tan, or skin- colored

  • Bumps within a tattoo or scar

  • Raised, thickened patches on your skin

  • Smooth, shiny bumps and patches, mostly on your head and neck, which are reddish blue to violet

The skin is one of the more common places for sarcoidosis to develop. About 25% of people who get sarcoidosis have signs of it on their skin.

Cutaneous sarcoidosis is rarely life-threatening, but it can reduce your quality of life. Lumps under the skin and sores can be noticeable and sometimes painful.

Is there a cure for cutaneous sarcoidosis?

There is no cure for any type of sarcoidosis, including cutaneous sarcoidosis.

How can a board-certified dermatologist help someone with sarcoidosis?

When sarcoidosis develops on or under the skin,it can look like one of many different skin diseases. This can make it difficult to know what disease you have.

A board-certified dermatologist knows how to examine the skin and find out which disease (or diseases) could be affecting your skin. This helps give you the right diagnosis.

If you have cutaneous sarcoidosis, a dermatologist can also tell you whether you need to treat it. Not everyone does.

For many people, this disease goes away on its own in time and treatment isn’t needed. If this is your situation, your dermatologist will watch you closely.

When cutaneous sarcoidosis could worsen or cause disfiguring scars, your dermatologist will create a treatment plan.

Whether or not you need treatment, your dermatologist will recommend that you see other doctors to find out whether you have sarcoidosis inside your body.

Sarcoidosis can develop in any organ

Some people have sarcoidosis only on their skin. However, it’s more common for this disease to develop in more than one place. It’s also possible to have sarcoidosis on your skin and later develop growths inside your body.

The medical term for these growths is granulomas. They can develop on any organ, including the lungs, eyes, liver, or salivary glands. The most common place to develop granulomas is the lungs.

The skin is often the first place that granulomas are noticed. To see some of the many ways that they can appear on the skin, go to Sarcoidosis and your skin: Signs and symptoms.

Getty Images

Caplan A, Rosenbach MA, et al. “Cutaneous sarcoidosis.” Semin Respir Crit Care Med. 2020 Oct;41(5):689-99.

Imadojemu S, Rosenbach M. “Sarcoidosis of the skin.” JAMA Dermatol. 2022; 158 (12): 1464.

Jadotte YT, Abdel Hay R, et al. “Interventions for cutaneous sarcoidosis.” Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018 Aug 20;2018(8):CD010817. 

Rosenbach MA, Wanat KA, et al. “Non-infectious granulomas.” In: Bolognia JL, et al. Dermatology. (second edition). Mosby Elsevier, Spain, 2008: 1644-50.

Sève P, Pacheco Y, et al. “Sarcoidosis: A clinical overview from symptoms to diagnosis.” Cells. 2021 Mar 31;10(4):766.

Wu JH, Imadojemu S, et al. “The evolving landscape of cutaneous sarcoidosis: Pathogenic insight, clinical challenges, and new frontiers in therapy.” Am J Clin Dermatol. 2022 Jul;23(4):499-514.

Written by:
Paula Ludmann, MS

Reviewed by:
Arturo R. Dominguez, MD, FAAD
Neelam Khan, MD, FAAD
Ivy Lee, MD, FAAD

Last updated:  3/24/23