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Can Pre-Workout Supplements Cause Acne?
a Detailed Breakdown

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: September 15, 2021

While pre-workout supplements are fantastic for helping you power through a workout and get ripped, they may cause you some issues if you have acne-prone skin.

Does every pre-workout cause acne, or are there some that don't?

We consulted a dermatologist, and here are the most important things you need to have in mind regarding pre-workouts and acne.

Is It Possible For Pre-Workout to Cause Acne?

Close up image of a woman with acne

There’s no direct answer to this question, as the exact cause of acne is unknown.

Hormonal changes may have a role in acne breakouts.

Besides the anecdotal evidence that some foods and ingredients cause acne or worsen it, there isn’t scientific evidence to back up the claims.

Everyone knows that sugary and greasy foods are typically linked to acne.

A couple of small research trials revealed people on a low-glycemic-load diet, or a diet with plenty of whole foods, rich in fruits and vegetables, and low in processed and refined products, had less acne.

However, the evidence is pretty weak, and we can’t draw any conclusions.

"It turns out that there are no meta-analyses, randomized controlled clinical studies, or well-designed scientific trials that follow evidence-based guidelines for providing solid proof in dealing with this issue." — Apostolos Pappas, Ph.D., The Relationship of Diet and Acne.

Why They May Cause Acne

Woman holding her face

Acne is the most common skin disorder that almost every person encounters in their life. If you have acne-prone skin, your pre-workout may cause acne.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone who uses pre-workout supplements will get acne.

Here are some possible reasons why pre-workouts may trigger acne breakouts.

They Are High in Caffeine

Coffee beans close up image

Many pre-workout supplements are packed with caffeine that boosts your energy and helps you power through the workout.

And when I say packed, I mean packed!

The typical caffeine amount in pre-workouts ranges from 150–300mg per serving.

This is one of the reasons pre-workout supplements make you feel “wired.”

But how is this related to acne?

Research has proven that caffeine has a diuretic effect on your kidneys [1]. This means that caffeine causes you to pee more than usual, which affects your skin in a couple of ways:

Dehydration

First things first, peeing more than usual typically leads to dehydrating your body — including your skin.

Now, dry skin isn’t a problem for most people. But, when your skin is dehydrated, it produces oil to fight the dryness, and that can cause problems for people with acne-prone skin. The oil your dry skin produces to combat the dryness can clog your pores and cause acne.

Inflammation

Furthermore, caffeine can reduce magnesium absorption, causing you to pee out the unused magnesium, so we recommend taking proven pre-workouts without caffeine. Magnesium is essential for reducing inflammation, and there's some proof that acne is caused by inflammation [2].

They Are Packed with Artificial Sweeteners

A sugar being poured in

Some pre-workout supplements use artificial sweeteners like sucralose to enhance the taste of the supplement.

This may seem unrelated to acne, but researchers have discovered that artificial sweeteners increase insulin levels and insulin resistance in the same way sugar does.

One study had 15 participants take either 200mg of sucralose or a placebo each day for four weeks.

The results revealed that the participants in the sucralose group were more insulin resistant compared to the participants in the placebo group [3].

Another study revealed that participants who consumed aspartame with a meal had significantly higher insulin levels than the participants who consumed a natural sweetener with a meal.

Unfortunately for acne sufferers and people with acne-prone skin, insulin resistance may play an essential role in acne development [4].

So, if you don't want to risk getting acne, you might want to stay away from supplements that use sweeteners or try proven all-natural pre-workouts in capsule form.

They Contain Ingredients That May Cause Acne

A laptop providing a nutrition facts for a product

Hormonal changes aside, it's very tricky to pinpoint the exact ingredient that may cause acne flare-ups if you have acne-prone skin.

But besides caffeine and artificial sweeteners, pre-workouts are usually packed with:

  • Protein
  • Creatine
  • Mass gainers (calorie-dense supplements packed with protein, carbs, and fats)
  • BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids)

It’s typically the high carb levels and whey protein that cause the most problems.

Pre-workout supplements are usually stuffed with animal or soy-based proteins, artificial sweeteners, and a whole host of other not-so-natural ingredients.

However, any food with a high glycemic index can cause acne, as they cause blood sugar and insulin spikes.

As I mentioned, insulin is a challenge for your clear skin because of the insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) or any of the ingredients I already mentioned.

Tips for Reducing Acne

A woman taking a shower

If you want to take regular pre-workout supplements and deal with acne, I understand. Here are a couple of things you could do to reduce acne.

1. Take Cold Showers

Cold showers can help your skin in a couple of ways:

  • It reduces oiliness. Hot showers typically strip your skin of its natural, hydrating oils, so your body compensates for it by producing more oil. As I mentioned, this is problematic for people with acne-prone skin, as the oil the skin produces may clog the pores and cause acne. In contrast, cold showers reduce skin oiliness but don't dry out the skin.
  • It helps your immune system. Cold showers also improve your immune function by increasing your white blood cell count. By having more white blood cells, your body will have more power to fight off the bacteria that cause acne.

2. Take a Milk Thistle Supplement

Milk thistle with flowers

Many people supplement with milk thistle because of its liver protective effects, not knowing about its ability to fight acne.

So, I’d advise you to add it to your routine if your pre-workout supplements are causing you skin issues.

One study has compared the use of milk thistle and antibiotics for fighting acne, and the results showed that both were very efficient.

Of course, since milk thistle is more natural than antibiotics, I’d recommend it to all fitness enthusiasts fighting skin problems caused by pre-workout.

Researchers believe milk thistle gives such good results due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Take a Fish Oil Supplement

Fish oil supplements are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that offer a significant number of health benefits.

Moreover, the supplement is also packed with EPA and DHA that help reduce inflammation, which we've established is one of the essential factors for acne flare-ups.

So, if you want pre-workout supplements to be a part of your fitness routine, you may want to add some fish oil to it, too.

Does a Pre-Workout Cause Acne? The Final Verdict

Even though the exact cause for acne can't be determined, small research and anecdotal evidence show that some ingredients may cause your skin to break out more than others.

If your skin is sensitive, you may want to consult a physician before trying a pre-workout to avoid any adverse skin reactions.

What's your experience with pre-workouts and skin issues? Share them with us!


References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21346827/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24134468/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30005329/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22447309/

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