Does pre-workout cause acne?” 

This is a common question among fitness enthusiasts wondering whether their pre-workout supplement is behind their breakouts. 

According to some “experts,” the answer is a resounding yes. 

In their opinion, pre-workouts contain “toxic” ingredients that disrupt your hormones, upset your skin and gut microbiota, cause oil and sweat buildups, and more, all of which can cause acne. 

But how accurate are these claims?

Can pre-workouts give you acne?

Get an evidence-based answer in this article. 

Do Pre-Workouts Cause Acne?

Let’s get one thing straight: pre-workout doesn’t cause acne.

There’s also no evidence pre-workout makes acne worse in those prone to pimples. 

Nevertheless, blogs and online message boards are full of anecdotes about how pre-workout can give you acne

Let’s explore why this might be. 

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Why People Believe Pre-Workout Can Cause Acne

While many people associate the ingredients in pre-workout supplements with acne breakouts, there’s no proof pre-workout supplements cause acne.  

Let’s examine the compounds in question more closely, and explore why they’re probably not to blame for acne. 

1. Creatine

Creatine is a natural compound often included in pre-workout for its performance- and recovery-boosting effects.

Many people also believe creatine increases testosterone. 

Three studies form the basis of this stance: two that found people who took creatine saw their testosterone levels rise, and one that found athletes who took creatine experienced an increase in dihydrotestosterone, a hormone converted from testosterone.

This matters because testosterone increases the production of sebum (an oily substance produced by your skin’s sebaceous glands), which can aggravate the sebaceous glands and cause an acne flareup.

The problem with this argument is that the few studies showing a link between creatine and increased “T” are outliers—most research shows that creatine has no effect on testosterone.

In other words, creatine doesn’t increase testosterone and, thus, probably doesn’t increase your risk of acne.

2. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 plays a role in energy production, which is why supplement companies often include it in pre-workout products. 

While older research uncovered an association between B12 and acne, scientists are yet to fully understand the link. Some recent research suggests it could be because consuming high levels of B12 alters the skin microbiota (the bacteria, fungi, and viruses that live on the skin), prompting acne breakouts. 

That said, this research also shows that this mechanism doesn’t cause acne in everyone. Moreover, the authors are employees of a company developing an acne treatment, which may color their interpretation of the data. 

In other words, the evidence connecting B12 to acne is weak. Until we have stronger evidence from a disinterested third party, it’s probably safe to assume that B12 doesn’t lead to acne.

3. Caffeine

Caffeine is perhaps the most common pre-workout ingredient because it enhances athletic performance in numerous ways. 

It also increases cortisol (the “stress hormone”), which is relevant because stress and acne often go hand in hand. 

Crucially, this is only an association—no research shows that caffeine causes or exacerbates acne. 

Another theory suggests that caffeine increases sweating, which some believe might aggravate acne.

While little research has investigated this belief, the available evidence suggests it probably isn’t true.

4. Artificial Sweeteners

Many supplement manufacturers use artificial sweeteners in pre-workouts to make their products tasty while remaining low in calories

This is a concern for those susceptible to acne because research suggests artificial sweeteners may contribute to insulin resistance and disrupt the gut microbiome, both factors that can raise the risk of acne.

While there’s no direct evidence showing artificial sweeteners cause acne, finding a naturally sweetened pre-workout is a simple and potentially effective way to reduce your risk. 

5. Dairy

While technically not a pre-workout supplement, some gymgoers like to drink a casein or whey protein shake before they train.

The dairy in these drinks increases levels of the hormone insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), which leads to a process called sebaceous lipogenesis.

During sebaceous lipogenesis, the skin’s sebaceous glands produce oils to keep the skin moisturized. When it produces too much natural oil, acne can develop.

However, the evidence linking dairy to acne is inconsistent. Several case reports and observational studies have found an association, but others haven’t.

So, although there might be a relationship between dairy consumption and acne, it’s not yet clear how strong or direct that connection is, and we can’t definitively say dairy causes acne.

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6. Hormones

Pre-workout supplements don’t contain hormones, but they increase your energy levels, allowing you to train more intensely.

After intense workouts, testosterone levels rise for a short period. As we’ve already seen, this can make the skin produce more oil, which, when mixed with dead skin cells, can clog pores and contribute to acne formation.

Importantly, the rise in testosterone is minor and short lived. It’s also not particularly pronounced if you’re new to training, female, doing mainly isolation or machine exercises, obese, or older.

In other words, pre-workout may help you train harder, which may increase your T to a small degree, but it’s unlikely to meaningfully worsen acne, especially if you have a sensible skincare routine that optimizes overall skin health (more on this soon).

7. Steroids

Steroids aren’t an ingredient in pre-workout supplements, but they’re worth mentioning in this context. 

Reason being that the most jacked fitness enthusiasts who also have acne may blame their skin issues on pre-workout to cover up their steroid use.

Steroids significantly affect the body’s hormonal balance, leading to an increase in sebum production and, subsequently, acne. Unlike the minor and temporary increase in testosterone from intense workouts, steroids can cause a substantial and sustained hormonal imbalance.

This makes the skin more prone to acne flare ups than any ingredient in pre-workout supplements. So, when you hear someone attributing their acne to pre-workout, consider that steroids might be the real reason for their pimples.

3 Tips to Avoid Acne if You Take Pre-Workout

Does pre-workout give you pimples?

Probably not.

Nevertheless, to minimize your chances of getting acne while taking pre-workout, here are three evidence-based tips:

1. Avoid pre-workouts containing artificial sweeteners.

Artificial sweeteners may increase your risk of suffering from acne by affecting insulin sensitivity and disrupting your gut microbiome. Opting for naturally sweetened pre-workout supplements can help avoid these issues, making it a simple yet effective change.

For a naturally sweetened and flavored pre-workout that contains no artificial food dyes, fillers, or other unnecessary junk, try Pulse with or without caffeine

2. Use a plant-based protein powder.

If you drink a protein shake before your workouts, consider switching to a plant-based option. 

Dairy products can increase levels of certain hormones linked to sebum production and acne. Plant-based proteins, on the other hand, are less likely to affect your hormone levels in the same way, possibly reducing the chance of breakouts.

For a natural plant-based protein powder with a premium blend of rice and pea protein and no animal-derived ingredients or added sugars, try Plant+.

3. Consult a dermatologist about the best skincare routine for you.

Everyone’s skin is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. A dermatologist can provide personalized advice on skincare products and routines that can help keep your skin clear. 

This might include recommendations on cleansers, moisturizers, and any topical treatments that could be beneficial for your skin type and symptoms. 

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Does Pre-Workout Cause Acne: FAQs

FAQ #1: Does pre-workout make you break out?

While the idea that pre-workout supplements cause acne is widespread, there’s little scientific evidence to support this claim.

Some ingredients in pre-workouts, such as artificial sweeteners or dairy (in pre-workout protein shakes), may contribute to skin issues for some people, but this varies from person to person.

FAQ #2: Does pre-workout affect your skin?

Pre-workout is unlikely to have a direct impact on your skin’s health. However, some ingredients found in pre-workout supplements could potentially affect your skin, albeit indirectly. 

For instance, ingredients that affect your hormones or insulin sensitivity, like dairy protein powders or artificial sweeteners, might contribute to skin issues for some individuals. 

FAQ #3: What pre-workout does not cause acne?

To minimize your chances of experiencing acne while using a pre-workout, find a product that contains no caffeine, dairy, or artificial flavors or sweeteners, such as Stim-free Pulse.

+ Scientific References