Does Pre-Workout Cause Acne? 9+ Ways To Stop & Prevent Acne

Pre-workout supplements are designed to help people increase their energy levels and performance during exercise. Many athletes and fitness freaks take it. Do you take pre-workout supplements? If so, you may be worried about their effect on your skin.

Some people wonder about the question – Does pre-workout cause acne? But is this true? There is no simple answer to this question. The truth is that it depends on a number of factors, including your individual skin type, the ingredients in the pre-workout, and how you take the supplement.

In this article, we’ll explore the potential causes of acne or pimples from pre-workout and give you some tips on how to avoid acne breakouts.

What is Pre-Workout?

Pre-workout is a type of dietary supplement that people take before exercise. It generally contains ingredients like caffeine, B vitamins, and other stimulants that are claimed to boost your energy levels, improve focus and performance, and delay fatigue [1, 2, 3]. 

Pre-workout can come in the form of a powder or pill and is usually taken 15-30 minutes before doing physical activity. The exact ingredients list will depend on the brand, but some of the most popular ones include Caffeine, Creatine, Beta-alanine, Arginine, B vitamins, and Citrulline [1]. 

So now that we know what pre-workout is, let’s get to the question at hand – Does pre-workout actually cause acne? 

Does Pre-Workout Cause Acne?

The connection between pre-workout and acne is unclear. Although some studies suggest a possible link, the majority of research is inconclusive. If your body is sensitive to the ingredients in a pre-workout, it’s possible that they could cause or worsen acne or pimples.

For example, caffeine is a stimulant that is the main ingredient in pre-workout supplements and can raise your cortisol levels leading to increased levels of stress [4, 5]. Research has shown that increased stress can cause acne [6, 7, 8]. Stress can also cause an increase in sebum production, which can lead to blocked pores. 

There may also be some other ingredients in the pre-workout that can cause breakouts. For instance, some pre-workout supplements contain high amounts of sugar, which can cause an imbalance in your hormones and lead to breakouts. 

The Link Between Pre-Workout And Acne

does pre-workout cause acne
Image – dusanpetkovic/iStock

The main link between pre-workout and acne is the stimulants added in pre-workout supplements. Many people claim that taking pre-workout caused them acne breakouts, while others suggest that it was due to other factors such as stress, diet, hormonal changes, or underlying medical conditions.

It’s also possible that pre-workout may trigger an underlying skin condition. People who suffer from pre-existing conditions like acne or rosacea may find that pre-workout exacerbates their symptoms. 

There is limited research to back this up, but it’s worth being aware of. Moreover, some people may be genetically predisposed to acne breakouts. If you have a family history of acne, then you may be prone to develop acne breakouts [9].

Ingredients in Pre-Workouts That Can Cause Acne

Pre-workout acne
Professor25/iStock

As we know, specific ingredients and stimulants added in pre-workout supplements are the main links between pre-workout and acne. So, here are some of the ingredients that are mixed in most pre-workout supplements that might cause acne or pimples.

Caffeine

Caffeine is the main ingredient in most pre-workout supplements. Caffeine is added to some pre-workout supplements in very high amounts. Many pre-workout supplements contain anywhere from 150 to 300 mg of caffeine.

Research has shown that high doses of caffeine can lead to stress which is known to cause acne breakouts [4, 5]. Also, increased consumption of caffeine might cause dry skin. As your skin will become drier your body will tend to produce more sebum which can then lead to more acne overall.

The FDA recommends upto 400mg of caffeine a day is safe. But, many pre-workout supplements contain more than half of it which you will be consuming in one go. Higher doses of caffeine not only can affect acne but are also linked to causing anxiety, insomnia, diarrhea,  high blood pressure, increased sweating, nervousness, etc [10, 11]. 

So, if you want to stay away from acne breakouts then try consuming lesser amounts of caffeine and stay away from pre-workout supplements that contain high doses of caffeine.

Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners provide no other benefits than adding taste to your pre-workout supplements. They are added to pre-workout supplements in high amounts to provide an extraordinary taste while sacrificing health benefits. 

Consuming artificial sweeteners can cause hormonal imbalances [12], which can lead to acne breakouts.  Additionally, artificial sweeteners can trigger insulin levels which can lead to your body producing more sebum causing acne. 

Hence, artificial sweeteners are just another ingredient in pre-workout supplements that you may want to stay away from to avoid acne. Not only in pre-workouts but it is also recommended to stay away from any sugary foods or drinks to avoid acne.

Whey Protein

Whey protein can be found separately in the form of dietary supplements and also as an ingredient sometimes in pre-workouts. Whey protein comes from cow’s milk and is a dairy product. 

Whey protein contains a variety of amino acids which can help in muscle building, improve workout performance, and help in post-workout recovery. 

Whey protein is a dairy product and research has shown that dairy products can worsen acne in many people [13, 14]. Although, it varies from person to person.

Studies have found that dairy products can affect acne because of the growth hormones present in them. When you take dairy products along with a diet high in refined foods, it can affect your insulin levels which can cause acne. 

In the end, we are not saying you should not consume whey protein and dairy products but if you are prone to acne you should cut out on dairy products.

BCAAs

BCAAs stands for Branched-Chain Amino Acids. They can also be found in meat and dairy products. BCAAs help in muscle growth and also in aiding post-workout recovery. Studies have shown that increased consumption of BCAAs can affect your insulin levels [15], which might be the reason for your acne breakouts.

Although there is not enough research to prove that BCAAs can cause acne, this may vary from person to person.

9 Ways to Prevent Acne Caused by Pre-Workouts

A person following ways to prevent acne breakouts.
Image – dragana991/iStock

If you’re worried about breakouts caused by pre-workout, then here are some simple steps you can take to minimize the risk. 

1. Change Your Pre-Workout

Firstly, make sure you’re using pre-workout supplements that are made from natural, high-quality ingredients. This will reduce the chances of your body having a reaction to any of the ingredients. Use pre-workout supplements that do not contain ingredients that are most likely to cause acne breakouts. 

2. Take Cold Showers

Taking cold showers will help in cleaning your skin which can avoid acne. But, so do hot showers, right? Hot showers do help in cleaning the skin but they can also cause dryness which can lead to more sebum production and provoke acne. Cold showers do not cause dryness in the skin which can help lower oil (sebum) production.

Not only that way, but cold showers can help limit acne in some other ways as well like cold showers can help in boosting your immune system. With an improved immune system, your body can fight against many infectious bacteria involving the ones that cause acne.

3. Drink Plenty Of Water

Drinking plenty of water can help in hydrating your body and also can help in your various fitness goals. Being hydrated can also help in limiting oil production in your body.

Not drinking enough water can cause dehydration which can lead to many skin problems including acne. Dehydration can cause dryness in the skin causing your body to produce more sebum oil which can then lead to more acne breakouts.

4. Take Fish Oil Supplements

Research has shown that fish oil supplements can help in aiding acne [16]. Fish oil supplements are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which is very helpful for your skin health. Omega-3 can help in reducing inflammation and can also help in reducing acne.

5. Take Milk Thistle Supplements

Milk thistle supplements can help with acne because of milk thistle’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Milk thistle can also provide many benefits like lowering blood sugar and it is also very good for your liver.

6. Lower Your Stress Levels

Stress is harmful to our health in many forms. As mentioned above stress can also lead to acne breakouts [6, 7, 8]. Increased stress has been linked with inflammation which might be the reason for severely inflamed acne.

So, if you are looking to avoid acne. it‘s recommended to avoid taking too much stress first.

7. Avoid makeup when working out

Wearing makeup while working out can cause clogged pores and trap sweat. As a result of increased blood flow while working out your pores can open up, and sweat, dirt, oil, acne-causing bacteria, and even makeup can get trapped in the pores causing more acne breakouts. That’s why it is also recommended to take a bath after working or at least wash your face and wipe the sweat from the body.

8. Wear Clean clothes & Change Them After Working Out

It is important to wear clean clothes as dirty clothes have dirt, sweat, and bacteria which can cause acne breakouts. It is also recommended to change your clothes after working out as the sweat produced while working out gets trapped in the clothes, and if you keep those clothes in contact with your skin for a long time it can cause acne breakouts.

You could also try wearing moisture-wicking clothes that can help in absorbing the sweat while working out so the sweat will not remain in contact with your skin for a long period of time and will not get clogged.

9. Use Sunscreen

Direct exposure of sun to the skin can cause skin damage including acne breakouts. Although, sunlight can provide Vitamin D, too much exposure of skin to the sun can damage our skin.

Wearing a good sunscreen can help you avoid skin damage involving pimples caused by the harsh UV rays of the sunlight.  

Ways to Treat Acne Caused by Pre-Workout Supplements

If you’re already suffering from acne caused by the pre-workout supplements, then you can try most of the things given above in the prevention ways section, but there are some more things you can do to treat it. 

Firstly, it’s important to use skincare products that are specifically formulated for treating acne or pimples. Look for products containing Salicylic acid or Benzoyl peroxide as these ingredients can help clear breakouts. You should use these products only if prescribed by your doctor.

Secondly, you may want to try switching to a different pre-workout supplement that doesn’t contain any of the potential acne-causing ingredients. Make sure you do your research to ensure that the supplement you’re using is of high quality and contains natural, safe ingredients. 

Thirdly, Make sure to wash your face regularly and exfoliate twice a week to remove any dirt and dead skin cells. This will reduce the risk of blocked pores which can lead to breakouts.

Finally, if your acne is severe then it is suggested to go meet your dermatologist for further treatment.

Conclusion

In conclusion, there is no definitive answer to the question – Does pre-workout cause acne? The truth is that it all depends on your individual skin type and the ingredients in the pre-workout supplement you’re taking. It’s important to be aware of the potential causes of acne from pre-workout and take steps to minimize the risk. 

If you are suffering from acne, make sure to choose pre-workout supplements carefully and use skincare products specifically formulated for treating acne. There are several ways to treat acne caused by pre-workout supplements. Try switching to a different pre-workout that doesn’t contain any of the potential acne-causing ingredients and reduce the amount of caffeine you’re taking in every day.

Make sure to follow some ways to avoid further acne breakouts given above and if the acne becomes severe then talk to your dermatologist right away for further treatment.


More Pre-Workout Supplement Guides

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Creatine Vs Pre Workout – Differences and Which is Better?

Why Is Pre-Workout So Expensive? Pre-Workout Price Paradox

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References

  1. Jagim AR, Harty PS, Camic CL. Common Ingredient Profiles of Multi-Ingredient Pre-Workout Supplements. Nutrients. 2019 Jan 24;11(2):254. doi: 10.3390/nu11020254. PMID: 30678328; PMCID: PMC6413194.
  2. Martinez, N., Campbell, B., Franek, M. et al. The effect of acute pre-workout supplementation on power and strength performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 13, 29 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-016-0138-7
  3. Outlaw JJ, Wilborn CD, Smith-Ryan AE, Hayward SE, Urbina SL, Taylor LW, Foster CA. Acute effects of a commercially-available pre-workout supplement on markers of training: a double-blind study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014 Aug 15;11:40. doi: 10.1186/s12970-014-0040-0. PMID: 25302053; PMCID: PMC4190923.
  4. Lovallo WR, Whitsett TL, al’Absi M, Sung BH, Vincent AS, Wilson MF. Caffeine stimulation of cortisol secretion across the waking hours in relation to caffeine intake levels. Psychosom Med. 2005 Sep-Oct;67(5):734-9. doi: 10.1097/01.psy.0000181270.20036.06. PMID: 16204431; PMCID: PMC2257922.
  5. Lovallo WR, Farag NH, Vincent AS, Thomas TL, Wilson MF. Cortisol responses to mental stress, exercise, and meals following caffeine intake in men and women. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2006 Mar;83(3):441-7. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2006.03.005. Epub 2006 May 2. PMID: 16631247; PMCID: PMC2249754.
  6. Zari S, Alrahmani D. The association between stress and acne among female medical students in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2017 Dec 5;10:503-506. doi: 10.2147/CCID.S148499. PMID: 29255370; PMCID: PMC5722010.
  7. Jović A, Marinović B, Kostović K, Čeović R, Basta-Juzbašić A, Bukvić Mokos Z. The Impact of Pyschological Stress on Acne. Acta Dermatovenerol Croat. 2017 Jul;25(2):1133-141. PMID: 28871928.
  8. Yosipovitch G, Tang M, Dawn AG, Chen M, Goh CL, Huak Y, Seng LF. Study of psychological stress, sebum production and acne vulgaris in adolescents. Acta Derm Venereol. 2007;87(2):135-9. doi: 10.2340/00015555-0231. PMID: 17340019.
  9. Ballanger F, Baudry P, N’Guyen JM, Khammari A, Dréno B. Heredity: a prognostic factor for acne. Dermatology. 2006;212(2):145-9. doi: 10.1159/000090655. PMID: 16484821.
  10. Evans J, Richards JR, Battisti AS. Caffeine. [Updated 2022 Nov 28]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519490/
  11. Wierzejska R. Kofeina–powszechny składnik diety i jej wpływ na zdrowie [Caffeine–common ingredient in a diet and its influence on human health]. Rocz Panstw Zakl Hig. 2012;63(2):141-7. Polish. PMID: 22928360.
  12. Schiffman SS, Rother KI. Sucralose, a synthetic organochlorine sweetener: overview of biological issues. J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. 2013;16(7):399-451. doi: 10.1080/10937404.2013.842523. PMID: 24219506; PMCID: PMC3856475.
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