Can Pre-workout Cause Acne and Skin Problems?

January 8, 2024 |

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In this article, I’ll discuss whether or not pre-workouts can cause acne.

Pre-workout supplements often cause skin reactions in around 35% of users – according to our pre-workout stats here.

I get your story, you might be an acne-prone gym enthusiast that got tempted into sweating a bit more to achieve that workout glow and picked up your local store’s pre-workout to boost your performance at the gym, but it simultaneously increased your breakouts as well.

The sad fact is that some pre-workouts do contain ingredients that might disturb the management of your acne-prone skin and cause your skin to bulge and redden. Caffeine, chemicals, and sugars are some culprits to name that are shattering your confidence and the peace of your skin.

But fret not; you don’t have to give up on pre-workouts to recoup your clear skin and solve the pre-workout acne problem.

This article will serve as your guide to ingredients in pre-workouts that you should avoid preventing acne flare-ups; I will also review some of the best pre-workout options that won’t trigger those bumps and pimples.

So, keep reading to find out the details.

Can pre-workout make you break out?

Yes, pre-workouts that have certain ingredients with acne triggering properties may cause you to breakout.

Acne is primarily triggered due to your body’s sensitivity to certain hormones like androgens. The infection and inflammation caused by bacteria or other microorganisms may also become a cause of skin eruptions.

In recent years scientists have been particularly focused on evaluating the implications of the skin and gut axis, which makes it evident that whatever you put in your gut will show up on your skin as well.

Suspecting pre-workouts to cause acne breakouts is a valid affair as the ingredients dominating their formulations are artificial sugars, caffeine, proteins with branched-chain amino acids like leucine, and different chemicals.

The product’s sugar content increases its glycemic load, which messes with hormones like insulin.

Consequently, high plasma levels of insulin make androgen hormones more active. And if you are sensitive to androgen hormones, it may cause your skin to break out.

I also went over to look for what the user experience is saying on the potential of pre-workout to cause acne, and I will share some Reddit stories in the subsequent sections but first, let me dig into what pre-workout causes acne.

What is in pre-workout causes acne?

I already mentioned some of the ingredients that may trigger acne breakouts, and in this section, I will provide you with deeper insights into why these components are essential to the pre-workout formulations and how they trigger acne.


Caffeine is one of the staple ingredients in pre-workouts that enhance stamina and performance and boost energy; pre-workouts may contain up to 400 mg of it in their formulations.

Caffeine may disrupt the calm of acne-prone skin because it can cause inflammation, trigger anxiety jitters, and dehydration.

This 2018 research traced the role of nutrition in causing different types of acne and found that caffeine triggers the activation of key receptors in rosacea acne.

When caffeine activates these receptors, they stimulate the release of certain substances that trigger an inflammatory response which causes skin flushing and edema.

Caffeine is already linked to causing stress because it increases the cortisol levels in the body, and this study reported that the high levels of cortisol during stress trigger the increased production of sebum from sebaceous glands, which may clog pores and lead to acne breakouts.

Moreover, this clinical trial reported that although consuming caffeine before exercise increased the cortisol level in both genders, the cortisol response was more significant in women than men.

This explains why women might be more prone to acne breakouts with pre-workout consumption than men.

Caffeine is also notorious for being a diuretic, and the excessive loss of fluids in urine may dehydrate your body which ultimately hinders the removal of toxins.

So, you need to up your water intake with caffeinated pre-workouts to prevent breakouts.

Branched-chain amino acids

Leucine, isoleucine, and valine are the branched-chain amino acids added to pre-workouts in the ratio of 2:1:1 for their potential to stimulate protein synthesis and enhance recovery.

But leucine – the amino acid added in the highest ratio has a role in triggering body mechanisms that enhance sebum production and acne development.

According to this research paper, the signals from food rich in protein, particularly leucine, are sensed by the ‘mTORC1 pathway’ that sets off the sebaceous gland for lipogenesis or sebum production.

And thus, the sebocytes convert this leucine into fatty acids and sterols, which are further processed into sebaceous lipids (sebum).

Moreover, overactivation of this mTORC1 pathway also increases the production of androgen hormones which further stimulate sebum production.

Both these mechanisms and the role of leucine in activating the mTORC1 pathway hint at its role in causing acne breakouts.

Artificial sugars

Pre-workouts are mostly sweetened with artificial sugars like sucralose and acesulfame potassium, which may trigger acne by causing hormonal imbalance.

This 2020 research investigated the link between diet and adult acne by recruiting 24,452 French participants and tracking, controlling, and evaluating the results of their dietary patterns for one year, that is, from 2018 to 2019.

On the completion of the study, researchers concluded that an energy-dense diet pattern (high sugar and fats diet) is linked to acne flare-ups.

The scientific explanation for this association is that the high glycemic load of the product increases the circulating levels of two hormones, the Insulin Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1) and insulin.

These two hormones stimulate cell growth and inhibit apoptosis (cell death) which leads to the accumulation of oxidative stress and triggers inflammation. And these processes contribute to the development of acne.

Can pre-workout cause chest acne?

Yes, pre-workouts may cause chest acne.

The cystic acne triggered by pre-workout ingredients may aggravate to chest and neck. But I didn’t find any user experience specifically mentioning that this happened to them or any case report documenting such incidents.

Nonetheless, you may expect a possibility since there are reports of back and shoulder acne.

Can pre-workout cause cystic acne?

Yes, pre-workouts may cause cystic acne.

Cystic acne is mainly caused by clogged pores. The ingredients discussed above, namely caffeine, artificial sugars, and branched-chain amino acids, may create a hormonal imbalance that triggers hormonal acne.

However, a hormonal imbalance may also lead to increased sebum production, which blocks the pores that become the breeding ground of bacteria and microorganisms, resulting in infection, inflammation, and the development of cystic acne.

These painful nodules appear mostly on the face, back of the neck, chest, and back. Many pre-workout users have complained of getting acne breakouts at these locations.

Here are two Reddit stories that I culled out for you as evidence.

  • Testimonial #1:

A Reddit user ‘Johnnystims’ shared his experience of suffering from pre-workout caused acne in this thread, and he wrote that he used pre-workout ‘Jack3d’ for two years and noticed that it triggered acne on his back and mostly on his shoulder.

He also tried using the C4 pre-workout, but the breakouts kept occurring during his one week of trial. Strangely enough, he wrote that his acne clears up when he discontinues the use of pre-workouts.

Repliers have related to his experience, and one of them recommended that he shift to natural and sugar-free pre-workouts as it worked for him.

  • Testimonial #2:

‘GetCranberryFarmed’ is a Reddit user who initiated this thread with her complaint of suffering from an acne breakout that had spread to her shoulder within three weeks of taking the C4 pre-workout.

She also suspected that her acne medicine might have reacted with the pre-workout ingredients.

One of the repliers shared getting boils in her head after taking pre-workouts. And one recommended trying the pre-workout Volt by Neon sports or Ultra alarm by Image sports because they seemed to work well with his cystic acne and medicines.

What pre-workout doesn’t cause acne?

The above section might have made you rush to your kitchen cabinet and fetch your pre-workout to check if any of the mentioned ingredients occur in your products.

But it might have also caused you to start wondering what could be the best replacement option for the pre-workout you are currently using.

Don’t worry; I have saved you from the hassle of doing all that research, and for this section, I have analyzed the ingredients of different pre-workouts and picked out the three best ones so that you can continue supplementing your performance with a product that is free from any acne triggering elements.

So, head down to find out the details.

Pre-workout for acne-prone skin

1. Type Zero clean pre-workout

Type zero clean pre-workout

If you want an all-natural, high-quality pre-workout for a hardcore performance boost but want to cut down on the cons of acne triggering stuff, then this pre-workout is the best choice for you.

The best part about it is that its formulation is brought together to be diabetic-friendly by a type 1 diabetic, and it prevents sugar spikes.

It has citrulline malate and nitric oxide as efficient nitric oxide boosters that provide massive muscle pumping. The citrulline malate enhances the availability of the nitrate precursor arginine, which increases vasodilation of blood vessels to pump muscles with blood.

At the same time, the beetroot powder promotes the absorption of these nitrates into the bloodstream. These ingredients work together to help you lift heavier and for longer.

Bioperine aids the breakdown and absorption of the added ingredients.

Its two ingredients, GABA and tyrosine, have a calming effect on the nervous system and reduce stress.

Apple cider vinegar prevents muscle cramps and promotes heart health.

Chromium is another ingredient in this pre-workout that supports heart health while simultaneously promoting weight loss.

Betaine anhydrous added to type zero clean pre-workout promotes muscle hydration.


  • 21 servings for $33.95


  • It is caffeine-free.
  • It has natural sweetener stevia.
  • It does not have branched-chain amino acids.
  • It is GMO-free.
  • It is free from gelatin, gluten, soy, and major allergens.
  • It has a low glycemic index.
  • It promotes weight loss.
  • It promotes heart health.
  • It has zero calories.
  • It is Keto friendly.
  • It is preservative-free.
  • It has no artificial flavors.
  • It is available in two different flavors.
  • Does not cause an energy crash.
  • It is third-party tested.
  • It is GMP certified.


  • It is a bit pricey.
  • Beta-alanine may cause tingling.
  • It contains natural flavors.

2. Genius Pre

genius pre workout

The Genius Pre-workout is a science-backed pre-workout alternative for your acne-prone skin.

Its well-researched ingredients can boost your performance and most probably not disrupt your hormonal balance or cause acne while you are gulping in all its benefits.

It uses stevia extract to impart sweetness to its powder, which enhances its taste, contributes some anti-inflammatory properties, and prevents acne breakouts, as reported in this review-genius.

The genius pre-workout is free from another acne trigger, caffeine.

Instead, it uses nootropics to directly enhance the brainpower instead of stimulating the Central Nervous System, which is tied to the risk of acne breakouts.

The four scientifically well-researched nootropics added to improve cognitive function are tyrosine, alpha GPC, Rhodiola Rosea, and huperzine A.

Genius Pre contains an optimum dose of L-Tyrosine, an amino acid well-known for its ‘soothing effects.’ It reduces stress and improves attention and focus.

Alpha GPC is a compound that enhances neuromuscular coordination and maintains the reaction time in athletes post-exercise.

This study reports an increase in the speed and power and higher lower body force production in the athletes.

In contrast to caffeine which stimulates the sympathetic nervous system to induce anxiety for improving performance, genius pre has Rhodiola Rosea, which works by easing stress and anxiety to promote mental focus and clarity.

It also helps clear up hormonal acne, as reported in this research paper.

Huperzine A is a nootropic that enhances neurons and neurotransmitters’ function and helps boost cognitive performance exerts neuroprotective effects on the brain.

HICA (a-Hydroxyisocaproic Acid) is another ingredient added to the formulation.

It is scientifically proven to slow down the loss of muscle mass during workouts and improve muscle recovery post-workout.

Beta-alanine delays the onset of fatigue by reducing muscle acidity and betaine anhydrous promotes both muscle recovery and gains and increases muscle hydration.

The muscle pumping ingredients in this pre-workout include L-arginine, citrulline malate, and beetroot powder that increase muscular endurance by delaying fatigue which helps you work out for longer.

ElevATP and theobromine are added as clean energy sources. ElevATP is a clinically researched combination of ancient peat and apple skin polyphenol that stimulates your body cells to produce endogenous energy that elevates your strength, power, and performance during workouts.

Bioperine promotes the absorption and bioavailability of all the added ingredients.


  • 20 servings for $37.99


  • It is caffeine-free.
  • It contains natural sugar stevia.
  • Comes in three flavor varieties.
  • It enhances brainpower.
  • It provides massive muscle pumping.
  • It promotes efficient recovery.
  • It provides an effective energy boost.
  • It contains clinically studied doses of ingredients.
  • It is free from artificial colors, flavors, and dyes.


  • It lacks fat-burning ingredients.
  • It is a bit pricey
  • Beta-alanine may cause tingling.

3. Zhou Lite up pre-workout

Zhou Lite - up Pre-workout

The Zhou lite-up pre-workout is a clean pre-workout free from filler ingredients, and its simple formula does not contain any acne triggers like caffeine, sugars, or branched-chain amino acids.

It contains the most potent nitric oxide boosters, nitrosigine, and citrulline malate. These increase the availability of arginine, which promotes muscle pumping and increases endurance.

The tart cherry blend and 1100mg of malic acid provide a jitter-free source of smooth energy.

It is sweetened with natural sugar stevia so that you may enjoy the sweetness without the risk of acne breakouts.

The reason behind this phenomenon can be explained by this research paper, which states that artificial sugar like sucralose causes a spike in the glucose and insulin levels of the body. But in contrast to this, stevia, a non-nutritive sweetener, exerts a rather protective effect on the blood glucose and insulin parameters.

The high insulin may trigger acne breakout, which is prevented by using a natural sweetener like stevia.


  • 30 servings for $25.99


  • It is caffeine-free.
  • It is sweetened with stevia.
  • It doesn’t contain branched-chain fatty acids.
  • It is lab-verified.
  • It is jitter-free.
  • It is gluten-free.
  • It is a vegan product.
  • It is cost-effective
  • It has a 60-day money-back guarantee.
  • It promotes strength, endurance, energy, and stamina.


  • It has propriety blends.
  • It has natural flavors.

Is pre-workout bad for acne?

Yes, if you are using the wrong product, but no, if you got your hands on an acne-friendly pre-workout.

Your choice of pre-workout largely determines how it will affect your acne.

A pre-workout will not aggravate your acne if it is free from acne triggering elements, as mentioned above in detail. (such as my top three picks in the section above.)

Wrap Up

In a nutshell, you need to be careful about the pre-workout you choose if you have acne-prone skin.

Avoid pre-workouts with artificial sweeteners and shift to natural pre-workouts which use guarana extract etc.

Opt for natural sugars like stevia to satisfy your sweet tooth if you want some sweetness in your pre-workout.

However, you may try drinking high amounts of water with your current pre-workout if it contains caffeine and branched-chain amino acids if you don’t want to replace it yet.

Nonetheless, texture and acne are completely normal and a part of your originality, so don’t freak out over them unless you feel like they indicate something serious.

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