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  3. > Does creatine cause acne? Here’s what the science says

Does creatine cause acne? Here’s what the science says

Learn how this popular supplement may impact your skin.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Aug 31, 2023 • 9 min read
Medically reviewed by Laura Phelan, NP-C
Creatine
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Aug 31, 2023 • 9 min read
Medically reviewed by Laura Phelan, NP-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

If you have acne-prone skin, finding the exact cause can be challenging. With many factors at play, from skin creams to dietary choices, determining what triggers breakouts can feel like solving a complex puzzle.

If you take creatine supplements, you might wonder if that compound is to blame. As countless athletes and fitness enthusiasts use this popular supplement, many are left asking whether creatine negatively or positively impacts their skin.

To uncover the truth, we asked Curology’s team of licensed dermatology providers whether creatine is truly responsible for those frustrating breakouts or if it’s just a misconception. Here’s what they had to say!

But, what is creatine? 

Creatine is a naturally occurring, nitrogen-containing, compound mostly located in your brain and muscles. While your organs produce it, you can also get it from seafood or red meat.¹ Like amino acids, creatine supports protein synthesis, essential for muscle growth. It offers the energy boost you need during intense workouts and heavy lifting. 

It is also available as a supplement, which is often used to aid in safer and more effective muscle exertion. Although not essential, creatine supplements may benefit athletes, bodybuilders, and active individuals.² It has been noted that vegetarians store less creatine, so supplementation may also benefit those who avoid eating meat.³

The controversy: Does creatine cause acne?

While creatine is often scrutinized as a potential culprit based on anecdotal evidence, no study or research links it directly to acne breakouts. 

Extensive studies have consistently demonstrated that creatine, whether obtained through natural sources or as a supplement, is safe and effective for improving athletic performance in most healthy individuals.⁴ In fact, emerging research suggests that topical application of creatine may even possess anti-aging properties, aiding in the delay of visible signs of skin aging.5

So, what might be the actual cause of your acne? 

Did you know 50 million Americans have acne at some point in their life every year?⁵ This common skin condition arises from various causes, including hormonal fluctuations and clogged pores

While no research has directly linked creatine with acne, there are a few factors that indirectly connect the two, including increases in DHT, dietary habits and workout regimens.

Increase in DHT

One hypothesis revolves around creatine's impact on dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a hormone involved in acne development. One small study revealed a 50 percent increase in DHT levels among male creatine supplement users.⁶ Such a substantial hormonal shift may trigger more frequent breakouts if you are predisposed to hormone-driven acne.

Further, excessive creatine intake beyond recommended guidelines correlates with high acne occurrence. While guidelines advise a daily dosage of three to five grams, some individuals exceed this in pursuit of more significant gains.⁷

While more research is warranted, this hormonal hypothesis offers intriguing insights into the potential creatine-acne interplay, encouraging careful consideration when supplementing for optimal results.

Dietary habits related to creatine supplements

Fitness enthusiasts and athletes may also take dairy products for their protein intake, which might contribute to acne in some people. Recent studies highlight the potential link between dairy consumption and breakouts for certain individuals.⁸ While the evidence is compelling, it's essential to recognize that not everyone is affected similarly. 

Hormonal changes can play a significant role in acne development, and milk consumption can impact hormones that may trigger breakouts.⁹ If you notice pimples emerging on your jawline, chin, and cheeks, it could be a telltale sign of hormonal acne. 

Factors related to your workout

When you work out, your body sweats a lot, which might lead to acne. Sometimes, if exercise attire rubs against your skin during exercise, like a helmet or tight clothes, it can increase your probability of acne.

The warm and moist environment created by your workout clothes can provide a thriving habitat for a yeast called Malassezia. When this yeast overgrows on your skin, it can develop a specific type of acne known as fungal acne.¹⁰

In addition to sweaty clothes, using the same towel to wipe your body and gym instruments may also be the cause. When you wipe surfaces indiscriminately, you may end up transferring germs from one place to another, including onto your skin.¹¹

Protecting your skin during a workout

In addition to monitoring your creatine intake, take the following hygiene precautions when working out or sweating throughout the day to help fight acne breakouts:

Planning your workout

When it comes to taking care of your skin while exercising, prevention is essential. Start by wearing clean workout clothes that have been washed since you last wore them. Unwashed clothes can harbor dead skin cells, bacteria, and oils that can clog your pores and lead to acne breakouts.

Additionally, if you plan to exercise outdoors during the day, it's crucial to apply oil-free sunscreen before heading outside. Sun exposure can dry your skin, prompting your body to produce more oil, which can clog your pores and cause acne.

To ensure adequate protection, choose a sunscreen with¹²:

  • SPF 30 or higher

  • Broad-spectrum coverage (shielding against UVA and UVB rays)

  • Water resistance

  • An oil-free formulation (look for labels that say “non-comedogenic” or “won't clog pores”)

Curology’s Everyday Sunscreen is a great choice—it’s SPF 30, lightweight, and formulated not to clog your pores, which means it’s good for acne-prone skin. 

During your workout

Maintaining proper hygiene during your workout is essential, especially for your face. Make it a habit to avoid touching your face with your hands while exercising. This helps minimize the transfer of dirt and bacteria onto your skin, reducing the risk of acne breakouts.

It's also important to keep the equipment you use clean. Wipe down free weights, machines, and handles thoroughly before and after use. For personal items like yoga mats, straps, or Pilates balls, use a cleaning product specifically designed for that purpose. After each use, spray gear thoroughly and allow it to air dry.

Clean All Equipment After You Use it

Choosing loose-fitting and sweat-wicking clothing can contribute to a more comfortable and hygienic workout experience. These types of garments help keep your body cool and dry, minimizing the buildup of sweat that can clog your pores.

Post-workout

After a workout, taking a shower, or at least splashing your face with water may help prevent acne breakouts. By rinsing off sweat and impurities, you can help keep your skin clean and minimize the risk of acne-causing bacteria.

When cleaning your face and other acne-prone areas, opt for a mild cleanser. Look for one that is oil-free and labeled as “non-comedogenic” or “won't clog pores.” This type of cleanser effectively removes bacteria and prevents clogged pores without causing irritation.

Curology's Acne Cleanser is an excellent choice if you’re looking for an effective yet gentle solution. Unlike harsh acne cleansers, this product contains a milder concentration of 2.5% benzoyl peroxide (BPO), making it suitable for daily use. It effectively treats and prevents acne without causing excessive dryness or irritation. 

Remember to be gentle when washing your skin with acne. Use your fingertips to apply the cleanser, and rinse it with warm water. Avoid rubbing or using hot water, as these can aggravate your skin and worsen acne flare-ups.

If you don't have immediate access to a shower, splash water on your face/neck and if possible, change out of your workout clothes.

Curology uses clinically researched ingredients

The link between creatine and acne remains uncertain. Possible indirect factors associated with creatine include increased DHT levels, dairy consumption, and workout hygiene. 

However, individual factors and personalized skincare regimens play a crucial role. Understanding your skin type, practicing good hygiene, and using appropriate skincare products are key to preventing acne breakouts, regardless of creatine use. 

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While creatine is unlikely to be the sole cause of acne, you can monitor your skin's response and seek professional advice if concerns persist. If you’re feeling unsure about what your skin needs to beat breakouts, talking to a dermatology provider can help. You can get started today with Curology. Just take a quick skin quiz, snap a few photos of your skin concerns, and one of our licensed medical providers will evaluate your skin and provide you with a personalized skincare routine.

FAQs

What are the side effects of creatine?

Creatine is generally considered safe for the majority of healthy individuals. However, it's important to note that if you have kidney problems, taking creatine is not recommended. The kidneys play a crucial role in filtering and excreting substances from the body, and creatine supplementation may put additional strain on the kidneys.¹³

Before starting any new supplements, it is always important to consult with your medical provider. They can evaluate your health condition and provide personalized advice on whether creatine suits you.

Can creatine cause weight gain?

Creatine supplementation has been associated with weight gain in certain individuals, but it's important to understand the underlying mechanism. The weight gain often attributed to creatine is often due to increased muscle mass rather than fat accumulation.¹⁴

Can creatine make acne worse?

There is currently no evidence to suggest this. In fact, research indicates that applying creatine topically could have remarkable anti-aging benefits.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework, so you don’t have to:

  1. Kreider, R. B.,et al. Creatine in Health and Disease. Nutrients ( February 2021).

  2. Persky A. M., et al. Clinical pharmacology of the dietary supplement creatine monohydrate. Pharmacol Rev. (June 2001).

  3. Kreider, R. B.,et al. Creatine in Health and Disease. Nutrients (Ibid).

  4. Kreider R. B., et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. (June 2017). 

  5. American Academy of Dermatology. Skin conditions by the numbers. (n.d.)

  6. van der Merwe J., et al. Three weeks of creatine monohydrate supplementation affects dihydrotestosterone to testosterone ratio in college-aged rugby players. Clin J Sport Med. (September 2009).

  7. van der Merwe J., et al. Three weeks of creatine monohydrate supplementation affects dihydrotestosterone to testosterone ratio in college-aged rugby players. Clin J Sport Med. (Ibid).

  8. Melnik., B. Milk consumption: aggravating factor of acne and promoter of chronic diseases of Western societies. Journal of the German Society of Dermatology. (April 2009).

  9. Melnik., B. Milk consumption: aggravating factor of acne and promoter of chronic diseases of Western societies. Journal of the German Society of Dermatology. (Ibid).

  10. Rubenstein RM., et al. Malassezia (pityrosporum) folliculitis. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (March 2014).

  11. American Academy of Dermatology. Is Your Workout Causing Your Acne? (n.d.).

  12. American Academy of Dermatology. Is Your Workout Causing Your Acne? (n.d.).

  13. Taner B., et al. The effects of the recommended dose of creatine monohydrate on kidney function. NDT Plus. (February 2011).

  14. Kreider, R.B. Effects of creatine supplementation on performance and training adaptations. Mol Cell Biochem. (February 2003).

Laura Phelan is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She earned her Masters of Science in Nursing at Benedictine University and went on to get her post-master’s certificate as a Family Nurse Practitioner at the University of Cincinnati.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Image of Laura Phelan Nurse Practitioner

Laura Phelan, NP-C

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