Most fitness enthusiasts take pre-workout supplements for a boost of energy to achieve a powerful exercise routine at the gym and reach their fitness goals. (1)
Some acne sufferers are cautious about what they put in their bodies especially pre workout, as one bad meal or supplement might cause acne development or aggravate acne that already exists and put them in a bad mood.
Does Pre-Workout Cause Acne?
Many foods, drinks, supplements, and topical ingredients can be harsh for acne-prone skin.
Likewise, pre-workout supplements contain some components or ingredients that can lead to acne development and various skin issues.
Various ingredients in pre-workouts may cause acne. Many Pre-workout supplements, for example, contain a lot of caffeine that can dry up your skin barrier and cause acne (21).
Moreover, artificial sweeteners in pre-workout can make you resistant to insulin (20), which is related to the development of acne.
Other than this, pre-workouts such as protein shakes or whey shakes contain whey protein powders that can also trigger acne breakouts.
In this detailed article, we will try to cover the reasons behind acne breakouts triggered by pre-workouts and look for alternatives. But before diving into it, let's explore what is classified as acne and what pre-workouts are.
What Is Acne?
Acne is a prevalent skin condition that affects practically everyone at some time in their lives. It results when sebum and dead skin cells cause clogged pores. Acne appears in the form of blemishes and pimples that can be blackheads or painful pus-filled lesions.
It is a common skin disorder among teens but may also affect adults. Furthermore, it is caused by numerous factors, such as inflammation, hormonal changes, excessive sebum production, and overgrowth of acne-causing bacteria. (2)
What Do Pre-Workout Supplements Contain?
Numerous fitness supplements come under the umbrella term of pre-workout. Most pre-workout formulas, supplements, powders, or capsule form are laced with ingredients like caffeine, beta-alanine, branched-chain amino acids, etc. They are designed to deliver different health benefits, boost immune function, burn body fat and amplify physical performance during the workout sessions. (3)
You can concur that most pre-workout supplements and powders have a similar list of ingredients. But if you do your research, you can find some that are free of caffeine and artificial components and contain natural ingredients. Ideally, those are the best ones for people with skin issues.
Some unnatural and artificial ingredients present in pre-workouts can cause several side effects. These side effects include acne outbreaks.
Why Do Pre-Workouts Cause Acne?
Here we will try to uncover some reasons behind how pre-workout cause acne. By this analysis, we are not asserting that everyone will suffer from acne breakouts while taking pre-workout supplements. Everyone's skin is designed differently, so it reacts differently to the incorporated ingredients.
Presence Of Caffeine
Most pre-workout supplements contain a high amount of caffeine, ranging from 150 mg to 300 mg per serving. It is a common pre-workout substance that has been linked to acne and inflammation in some subjects. Caffeine overuse leads to general tension and anxiety (which affects the skin) and also tends to dry the skin out, disrupting oil production.
Acne sufferers can agree that dry skin and acne don't mix well. When your skin is dry, the body compensates for its lack of moisture by making the skin produce sebum in excess. It results in clogged pores, oily skin, and dreaded skin pimples.
Other than this, scientific evidence suggests that caffeine has a diuretic effect on kidneys. In simpler words, it helps your body make more pee (4). Peeing more than the average amount might lead to poor hydration status, affecting the overall skin condition. Dehydration, in turn, triggers acne-prone skin, causing acne (12).
Moreover, caffeine is known to cause a reduction in the absorption of magnesium, which propels the body to let go of unused magnesium through urinating. Scientific evidence shows that magnesium functions to reduce inflammation. Therefore a lack of it can aggravate acne and cause different inflammatory skin issues. (5)
High Level Of Artificial Sweetener
If you look at the ingredients of different pre-workouts, you will find one thing similar in most of them: artificial sweeteners. Numerous studies have shown that although artificial sweeteners do not have a high glycemic index, they increase insulin levels and cause insulin resistance, similar to regular sugar. (13)
In a study where an experiment was conducted on two groups, one was given a placebo group, and the other was given 200 mg of sucralose. The results showed that the group given sucralose was more insulin resistant than the other one. (6)
Another study revealed that those who take aspartame with food tend to have higher insulin levels than those taking natural sugar. (7) It is not good news for gym enthusiasts with acne-prone skin, as research reflects that insulin resistance plays a vital role in causing acne breakouts. (8)
How Can One Avoid Acne When Exercising?
During the first few weeks of starting a new exercise routine, most people experience acne outbreaks. While pre-workout supplement chemicals are generally to blame, they can also be due to a lack of measures taken before and after the exercise session. If you are starting a fitness routine and do not want to deal with acne breakouts, you can follow these strategies:
Getting Out Of Gym Clothes
We all know that sweat and bacteria flourish in wet, humid conditions. Never make the mistake of tossing your dirty exercise clothes in your gym locker and wearing them the next day. Beware of doing it as you might be cultivating an environment where acne-causing bacteria may grow and clog your pores, eventually triggering acne breakout. So, once you are done with your routine, change into a fresh pair of clothes as soon as possible.
Showering Is The Key
Allowing perspiration, dead skin cells, germs, and sebum to stay on your body is not healthy for your sensitive skin. Gyms may be quite unsanitary, so it is critical to shower as quickly as possible after your workout. If you cannot shower at the gym, hop into the shower as soon as you reach home.
If possible, try to take cold showers instead of hot ones. Hot showers lead to more oil production if you have dry skin and especially when you suffer from acne. (14)
Other than this, some studies show cold showers increase the white blood cell count. More white blood cells are good for acne-prone skin as it removes bacteria (9). If you are taking pre-workouts, cold showers can help calm your acne-prone skin, reducing acne breakouts caused by different pre-workout ingredients.
Avoid Wearing Makeup
Combining makeup with sweat might not be the wisest decision. Various makeup products contain comedogenic formulations that can easily block pores and trigger acne breakouts. Even non-comedogenic makeup products combined with sweat during workouts can clog the pores, leading to stubborn acne development. Hence, it is better to let your skin breathe during gym sessions and allow it to remove toxins through sweat.
List Of Acne-Causing Pre-Workout Ingredients To Avoid
To make it easy for you to pick a healthy pre-workout, let us go over some of the ingredients that are a hard pass if your skin is prone to acne. These ingredients include:
- Iodine (15)
- Refined salts
- Potassium iodine
- Artificial sweeteners, including neotame, sucralose, aspartame, etc.
Hence, to prevent acne formation and maintain clear skin, watch out for these ingredients before buying a pre-workout supplement.
Promising Pre-Workout Alternatives For Acne-Prone Skin
Here are some acne-safe alternatives that can help your get the same energizing effect as a pre-workout:
A healthy approach is to snack on fruits before workouts. This natural alternative will boost energy and prepare you for your strength training. Most energy obtained from fruits comes from the carbohydrate portion and natural sugars.
Beetroot juice is one the best option as an pre workout.
Fruits contribute a low glycemic load diet which is ideal for acne-prone skins. They provide clean energy and contain antioxidants that can help combat acne. Some low-fructose fruits you can opt for in your workout regimen include cranberries, raspberries, strawberries, pineapples, etc. (16)
Sweet potato is one of the top foods for achieving clear skin. It is packed with vitamins such as C and E and contains antioxidants that are perfect for keeping your skin and pores clear. It also helps in keeping you full while providing energy to burn fat. You can switch your morning drink full of caffeine and sugar with sweet potato and see the difference yourself. (17)
Sugar-Free Black Coffee Or Decaf
Coffee is not your safest bet when trying to get rid of a pre-workout that triggers acne. Yet if you still want a dose of energy boost, a small cup of black coffee can help you out. The trick is not to add sugar, milk, or artificial sweeteners. However, you can take it with acne-friendly coffee creamer.
Furthermore, decaf coffee can be a safe option to start your day and workouts without worrying about acne formation. The caffeine content is extremely low and does not trigger skin issues. (18)
Ways To Reduce Acne And Treat Acne-Prone Skin
Here are some ways you can reduce acne and treat your acne-prone skin if you are consuming a pre-workout.
Fish Oil Supplements
Fish oil supplements are enriched in omega-3 fats and have numerous health benefits. Omega-3 in fish oils helps with reducing inflammation and acne lesions. These fish oils are also rich in EPA and DHA.
In a study, 45 acne patients were either given omega 3, a placebo, or linoleic acid. The results showed that patients who were given omega 3 as in fish oil supplements and linoleic acid had some progress in their skin acne condition. (10)
Milk Thistle Supplement
Most people know milk thistle for its liver protective effects. It also has some beneficial effects in terms of acne. The same treatment progress was reported after milk thistle and antibiotic administration to patients with acne. (11) It is because milk thistle is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients that reduce inflammation associated with acne breakouts.
Sunscreen is essential, no matter whether you are indoors or outdoors. UV rays can harm the skin barrier and cause acne and other skin disorders. If your skin is already damaged from pre-workout, direct sunlight exposure can worsen it. Therefore, wear sunscreen and reapply it when needed to reduce acne. (19)
Stress can aggravate acne and slow down the healing process. It is why wounds and acne are felt to heal slower when stressed compared to a normal state. Your existing acne can worsen with the amount of stress you take. Therefore, practice mind-calming exercises, eat healthy food, and take care of your skin.
To sum it all up, certain ingredients present in your pre-workout can cause acne formation, a common skin disorder. For example, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, and sugary and greasy foods imbalance the skin's natural biome, causing acne and other skin issues.
However, there is no need to worry if you suffer from sensitive skin yet want to take a pre-workout for your exercise routine. There are several best pre-workout supplements available that are free from acne-causing ingredients. They might cost a bit but are worth keeping your skin clear and maintaining overall body health. You can also opt for various natural alternatives to preserve energy and clear skin while achieving your fitness goals.
William Toro ‧ CPT & Nutritionist
William is a certified personal trainer from NASM, he has also been a rehab physiologist for sports persons. He has more than 15 years of experience training people. And has featured in multiple publications like FoxNews, CNBC, Bustle, and other.