Go to AAD Home
Donate For AAD Members Search

Go to AAD Home

Sarcoidosis and your skin: Overview

What exactly is sarcoidosis?

Sarcoidosis is a disease that causes abnormal masses or growths called granulomas. A granuloma isn’t a type of cancer. It’s a cluster of inflamed cells.

When someone has sarcoidosis, granulomas can develop in the skin, inside the body, or both. The most common places for granulomas to develop are the lungs, lymph nodes, and skin. When sarcoidosis affects the skin, it can cause more than 20 types of lesions1.

For some people, sarcoidosis develops in one place, such as the skin. Sarcoidosis can also develop in more than one part of the body. For example, it could be found in the lungs and skin. It’s also possible for granulomas to develop in one place, clear, and then appear in another part of the body later.

Sarcoidosis can affect the skin in many ways

For this woman, it caused tiny, smooth bumps and areas of darker skin around her eyes.

Woman with tiny, smooth bumbs of sarcoidosis on face

If many granulomas develop in an organ, they can affect how the organ works. In a lung, this can lead to breathing problems. Granulomas in an eye may cause blurry vision.

While these problems can occur, many people who develop sarcoidosis have a mild version of the disease. They never have symptoms.

Sarcoidosis can take time to diagnose, even on the skin

Many doctors call sarcoidosis “the great imitator” because it can look like many other diseases. This makes sarcoidosis a difficult disease to diagnose. This holds true whether sarcoidosis develops inside the body or on the skin.

When sarcoidosis develops inside the body, it can look like Crohn’s disease or tuberculosis. People who have these diseases also develop granulomas.

If a doctor suspects that you could have sarcoidosis, you may see a few different doctors for exams and testing. You may see a lung specialist for a chest x-ray and lung function test. You may see an eye doctor for an eye exam.

If you have a skin problem, you may be referred to a board-certified dermatologist.

You can see some of ways that sarcoidosis can appear on the skin at, Sarcoidosis and your skin: Signs & symptoms.

Image used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides.

Haimovic A, Sanchez M, et al. “Sarcoidosis: A comprehensive review and update for the dermatologist. Part I. Cutaneous disease.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2012; 66:699.e1-18.

Howard A and White CR, Jr. “Non-infectious granulomas.” In: Bolognia JL, et al. Dermatology. (second edition). Mosby Elsevier, Spain, 2008: 1421-6.

Katta R. “Cutaneous sarcoidosis: A dermatologic masquerader.” Am Fam Physician. 2002; 65: 1581-5.

Marchell RM, Theirs B, et al. “In: Wolff K, Goldsmith LA, et al. Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology in General Medicine (seventh edition). McGraw Hill Medical, New York, 2008: 1482-93.

Marcoval J, Moreno A, et al. “Papular sarcoidosis of the knees: A clue for the diagnosis of erythema nodosum–associated sarcoidosis.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2003; 49:75-8.

1Haimovic A, Sanchez M, et al. “Sarcoidosis: A comprehensive review and update for the dermatologist. Part I. Cutaneous disease.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2012; 66:699.e1-18.