Could creatine be the reason behind your acne breakouts?

There's been talk of of this supplement causing acne. But does it actually?

Written by
Tori Crowther
Medically reviewed by
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If you’re a regular gym goer, you’ll likely have heard of — and maybe even used — creatine. As with any supplement, creatine use has been linked with certain side effects, such as weight gain and hair loss.

Lately, there’s also been talk of it triggering acne breakouts. But does it actually?

With so many factors playing into acne, it can be difficult to know exactly what’s causing it. So before you throw away all of your good creatine, we look into what the evidence is when it comes to acne breakouts and creatine supplements.

Plus, we explore how you can best look after your skin pre- and post-workout to ensure acne breakouts are kept to a minimum.

What is creatine?

Creatine (creatine monohydrate) is an amino acid made naturally in the body (typically in the body’s skeletal muscles and a little in the brain and other areas), which people take as creatine supplements to enhance their workouts.

Although it’s a naturally occurring substance, you can get creatine from foods like red meat and fish, though much of the creatine in these foods can be lost during the cooking process. 

Many people get it from creatine supplements to increase muscle mass and strength [1].

It works by increasing the concentration of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) produced in the muscle cells [2].

In other words: it helps you continue your workout (particularly weight sessions and resistance training) for longer without fatiguing your muscles; basically helping you exercise harder.

Does creatine cause acne?

The short answer: there’s no evidence to suggest that taking creatine supplements is the cause of acne. 

One of the reasons people correlate creatine supplements with acne is because of various factors that occur during exercise.

Things like sweat, dirty clothes and wearing makeup while doing intense workouts can increase breakouts, and since people take creatine supplements to enhance athletic performance, the two go hand-in-hand. 

Another link is the hypothesis related to dihydrotestosterone (DHT). One small study looking into this found that DHT levels increased following creatine supplementation [3].

When DHT levels are too high, it can cause an increase in sebum production and when this is combined with dirt and bacteria, it can impact hormonal acne.

It’s important to note, this is a small study done on a specific type of person so more research is needed to be conclusive. 

Creatine is not a synthetic drug, but rather already found in our body and by taking creatine, we’re simply adding to what we already have with supplementation. 

In addition to this, although more studies are needed, whey protein has been correlated to acne, which is something to consider before cutting creatine from your routine. 

Despite there being a lack of scientific evidence, there is some anecdotal evidence attributing the formation of new breakouts to starting creatine, but it’s important to look at this holistically and ask yourself: have my diet habits changed? Have I changed my skincare routine? Have I altered my gym routine?

If you’re concerned about whether creatine is impacting your skin, speak to a medical professional or keep a diary noting down correlations between taking it alongside other lifestyle factors. 

Given all of this, the answer to "Does creatine cause acne?" is that it's unlikely.

Can creatine affect the skin in any other way?

Even better than learning that your creatine supplement likely isn’t the cause of your acne, you’ll be pleased to know that it can have other benefits for skin health.  

Reduce signs of ageing

There are some studies to suggest that applying topical creatine can help with signs of ageing like fine lines and wrinkles, however, this was done with animal skin so there’s more research to be done here [5].

For human fine lines and wrinkles, retinoids are still the gold standard. 

Aids photodamage protection

A 2005 paper suggested that creatine can have a photoprotective effect on the skin when applied topically [6]. 

Increase in collagen production

The same paper also noted that topical application of creatine can help collagen, glycosaminoglycan and ceramide synthesis, helping with premature ageing and supporting the skin barrier. 

Can exercising cause acne?

Now, exercising itself doesn’t cause acne but the environment created on your skin during a workout can trigger a breakout (particularly if you have acne-prone skin). Here's why:


When sweating is combined with friction, heat and bacteria, it can clog your pores and make acne outbreaks worse.

You’ll likely experience a build-up of all this sebum, dirt, and possibly even make-up, which can get oil to get trapped and result in more pimples.

Tight-fitting clothing

Wearing tight-fitting clothing can contribute to friction breakouts (also known as acne mechanica) so opt for breathable, loose-fitting clothing.

Makeup mixed with sweat

If you regularly wear heavy makeup (think: foundation, concealer, bronzer, setting spray — the works!) for your high-intensity workouts, then you might find increased acne breakouts due to sweat mixing with the oils and bacteria.

You'll find this is even worse if you aren't removing your makeup and washing your face properly after a sweat session.

To prevent this from happening, we recommend double cleansing after each workout — but more on this in a sec.

How to protect your skin during (and after) a workout

Although exercising can be triggered by working out, there are plenty of things you can do to prevent acne flare-ups from happening — and they’re not complicated. 

Take a shower pronto

The longer all of that sweat and bacteria from your workout session builds up on your skin, the more likely you are to develop pimples.

That’s why it’s important to take a shower as soon as possible once you’re finished with your workout.

Utilise the gym’s changing rooms or if you can’t shower right away, consider washing your face and changing your top on your way home before you can take a shower. 

Avoid makeup at the gym

Wearing makeup like primer, foundation and bronzer during your workout has the potential to clog your pores and bacteria leading to breakouts.

This is typically the case with a ‘heavier’, full face of makeup. If you’re wearing a very light touch of non-comedogenic products, then you likely won’t risk causing breakouts as much. 

Wear new workout clothes for every session

Your workout clothes should be strictly wear-once and chuck them in the laundry.

The warm environment of sweaty clothes (particularly made from a synthetic material like a lot of them are) is a party for bacteria and fungi to grow.

Whilst a lot of that is harmless in the grand scheme of germs, it’s not ideal for reducing breakouts; not to mention, it creates a less-than-appealing smell.

Our advice? Always wear clean workout clothes. 

Wipe down workout equipment

Wiping down equipment is typical gym etiquette anyway but if you’re trying to reduce breakouts or you’re particularly acne-prone, this is an important one.

This reduces the amount of bacteria passed from people before you. 

Avoid touching your face during your workout

Linking to the point above is being cognisant of touching your face, particularly if you haven’t wiped down equipment.

If you find yourself sweating and trying to remove this from your face throughout a workout then grab a towel to take with you during your session or class.

If you’re a spot picker and regularly find yourself poking and prodding them, get yourself some of Software’s AHA/BHA Pimple Patches.

These nifty guys keep your spot protected from your picking but also contain acids to help tackle the blemish — making it less inflamed and promoting quicker healing. 

Wash your face properly after a workout

You’ll need a little more than a quick splash of water after working out when it comes to washing your face.

Instead, get decent cleansing products to work into the skin and remove sweat, dead skin cells and bacteria.

As mentioned before, double cleansing is the way to go here.

Start with an oil cleanser like Software's Hydrating Cleansing Oil to break down the sweat and residue.

Then, follow up with our Salicylic Foaming Wash, designed to gently remove excess oils and trapped dirt from within the skin to rid any acne-causing bacteria. 

Use products that target breakouts after working out

Skincare doesn’t stop at the face wash. Using products like the ones featured in Software’s acne treatment or our Acne Kit helps you tackle breakouts at all stages and prevents them from returning.

The treatment formula is especially made-to-order for your skin, targeting various types of acne, while the Acne Kit is designed to target your acne inside and out, with a skincare routine and oral supplement to help support your body from the inside for healthier skin. 

So before cutting your creatine supplementation completely out of your routine, there could be other causes for either causing an acne outbreak or making your acne worse.

Current research suggests that taking creatine itself doesn't cause acne, but other habits alongside intense workouts could be the culprit.

Image credit: Marta Wave / Pexels

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