There's no direct link between pre-workout supplements and acne. However, some common pre-workout ingredients like caffeine, creatine, and artificial sweeteners have the potential to aggravate acne.
You’ve been ripping fat scoops of pre-workout powder to crush your gym sessions and get a pump that rivals Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 70s. You worked your way up to 225 on bench to assert your dominance and impress your gym crush, but there’s a problem. Actually, multiple problems—those pimples on your face.
You stare into the disgusting gym mirror and wonder: Does pre-workout cause acne?
The short answer is a resounding “maybe.” There’s no hard evidence to suggest pre-workout supplements can trigger acne breakouts, but that doesn’t mean the theory is entirely bunk.
In this blog, we break down five reasons your pre-workout powder could cause breakouts and how to keep your skin looking as glorious as your pump on arm day.
Does Pre-Workout Cause Acne?
We’ll give it to you straight: It’s unlikely that your pre-workout supplement is directly causing acne. That said, some pre-workout powders contain ingredients like creatine, caffeine, and artificial sweeteners that could make breakouts worse, especially if you have acne-prone skin.
The exact cause of acne still mystifies dermatologists and it varies from person to person, so it’s tough to blame a scoop of pre-workout for one of the most common skin conditions on earth.
Of course, the internet is littered with anecdotal evidence of pre-workout causing nasty breakouts, like this guy posted on r/Fitness:
“During the time I used pre-workout I noticed my back would just explode with acne, mostly on my shoulders. However, as soon as I stop using it...acne poofs. Life goes on, then I feel I want another good pump so I pick up the pre again and like a Jedi, the acne returns.”
There’s no shortage of these horror stories. But at the risk of sounding like your lame high school math teacher, correlation doesn’t always mean causation.
Just because you got a nasty breakout around the same time you started taking pre-workout doesn’t mean the two are linked. Several factors could be at play, like increased sweating, hormonal changes, hygiene habits, and your diet.
Bottom line: if you’re dealing with acne, it’s unlikely that your powdery friend is the lone culprit.
5 Reasons Your Pre-Workout Might Cause Acne
Let’s investigate five ways pre-workout supplements might sabotage your skin.
Most pre-workout powders are loaded with ungodly amounts of caffeine, a stimulant that makes you feel like Superman in the squat rack. Caffeine can definitely boost physical performance, but it’s got a few side effects that aren’t ideal for acne sufferers:
- Higher cortisol levels: Caffeine can double your body’s stress response, which is known to aggravate acne. Stress hormones like cortisol can also increase oil production by your sebaceous glands, leading to pimples and clogged pores.
- Increased sweating: Caffeine revs up your central nervous system, which can make you sweat like a beast. All that moisture can leave a buildup of acne-causing bacteria on your skin.
- Dehydration: Caffeine is a diuretic, meaning it makes you pee more. Hydration is essential for clear skin, so if you don’t drink enough water you might increase your risk of acne.
Creatine monohydrate is a common pre-workout ingredient that supplies energy to your muscles. The jury’s still out on whether creatine affects the development of acne. But it may increase your testosterone and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) levels, potentially causing excess sebum production.
The more sebum you have, the more likely you may be to break out.
3. Artificial Sweeteners
Some pre-workout powders contain artificial sweeteners like sucralose to cut out calories, but research suggests this stuff is a no-no for guys with skin issues.
4. Dairy Products
Pre-workout (and post-workout protein shakes) containing dairy products like whey protein powder can cause new acne breakouts or make existing acne worse.
A 2014 study found a strong link between dairy and acne for three reasons:
- The carbohydrate content of dairy
- Effects on insulin levels
- Growth hormones used to treat cows, like IGF-1
5. Hormonal Changes
Pre-workout supplements don’t affect your hormonal balance—but they can help you work out harder and longer, which temporarily boosts your testosterone levels. This study found that lifting weights three days a week significantly elevated men’s T-levels.
This is great news if your goal is to get swole, but it might spell bad news for your skin.
Testosterone is known to trigger acne breakouts by over-stimulating oil glands and causing clogged pores, according to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
3 Tips to Fight Acne If You Take Pre-Workout Supplements
If you can’t imagine hitting the gym without getting absolutely wired off pre-workout, don’t worry. Here are three easy skincare hacks to get a pump without pimples.
1. Refresh Your Face with a Moisturizer
Since pre-workout can make your skin as dry as the Sahara, it’s essential to keep your face moisturized 24/7. An easy way to do that is with PrettyBoy’s Revival Moisturizer, specifically designed for dudes that churn out sweat.
Unlike that mystery goop that’s been in your bathroom cabinet since college, Revival is lightweight, fast-absorbing, and non-greasy. Don’t take our word for it though—Men’s Health named it the best gel moisturizer on the market.
2. Take Cold Showers After Workouts
Hot water relaxes your muscles, but it strips away the healthy oils that keep your skin hydrated. That causes your body to overcompensate with even more oil, increasing your risk of breakouts.
Instead, take a lukewarm or cold shower after hitting the gym to get clean without nuking your skin.
Bonus: cold showers boost your immune system by increasing your white blood cell count, which helps fight acne-causing bacteria.
3. Use a Face Wash with Salicylic Acid
Speaking of showers, stop washing your face with body wash and (god forbid) hand soap. If you sweat a lot, use a face wash with salicylic acid. It exfoliates your skin and removes dirt, excess oil, and other gunk that clogs your pores and leads to breakouts.
Keep Your Pump, Ditch Your Pimples
“Bro science” might say pre-workout will give you a face full of zits. But real science says it’s more complicated than that. Supplements are just a small part of the equation that determines how clear (or pimply) your skin is.
If you’re worried about acne, there’s plenty of stuff you should ditch before pre-workout powder like greasy food, soda, dirty clothes, and weed (maybe).
Whether you’re a weekend warrior or the next Mr. Olympia, make sure you’re fighting acne and keeping your face fresh 24/7 with PrettyBoy.