Have you ever wondered if creatine causes acne? I haven't. Or at least not until recently.
You see, I have been fortunate enough never to have to deal with anything like it.
Unfortunately, a buddy of mine hasn't been so blessed. He swears that the newfound map of a tiny Asian country on his left cheek is the aftermath of the creatine he took.
I've been taking creatine for as long as I can remember. I know more people than I can count who do the same. So I was pretty confident that this supplement was not the bogeyman of his skin problems.
I tried to explain that to him, but he wasn't having any of it. So, I decided to dig up a lot of research on this topic, and hence came the birth of this article.
Busting the Myth: Breakouts from Taking Creatine
If you’re reading this, you’re definitely one of those people that can better relate to my friend than to me. In that case, you’re also likely to belong to the group of people who are in second thoughts about using creatine.
Having said that, there are two sides to this coin. The upside is that according to research, creatine does not directly cause acne.
The downside is that creatine is a supplement that can cause some side effects that may lead to acne.
To narrow it down, I found two ways in which creatine may cause your skin to break out based on your health and habits.
The effects of creatine on the skin vary from person to person, depending upon the water intake and hormonal balance.
So let’s look at each of them on their own and figure out how we can avoid them.
We’ve all heard of an age-old notion that water is the key to flawless skin. “Drink lots and lots of water” is the first thing you will hear when you want to get rid of one ugly pimple or many.
Here arises the drawback of creatine. Your body sweats out a lot of water when working out as it is, but creatine can even further lower the water content in our bodies.
Less water in the body means that toxins and pollutants are not flushed out properly. So where do they go if your body isn’t expelling them? That’s right; they stay in your system and then show up on your face later.
There’s another way in which creatine can cause your skin to breakout. Research has shown that creatine can tamper with certain hormones in the body, giving rise to them and ultimately to the painful bumps on your face.
These are sex hormones like testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT). The growth hormone known as Insulin Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) is also affected by creatine. These are only good for you as long as they exist in controlled levels in your system.
Such hormonal imbalances in the body mean that both men and women are at risk of breaking out. What a bummer, right?
We can get a closer look at how creatine affects men in a three-week study conducted on male rugby players. All the participants in this study took creatine regularly.
So if you’re a male athlete or gym-goer, you might want to look at the results of this study (7). I have broken them down here for better understanding:
- Hypothesis: the use of creatine will increase the testosterone and dihydrotestosterone ratio.
- Week 1: the players consumed a 25g dosage of creatine each day.
- Week 2 and 3: the players consumed a dosage of 5g per day.
- After both periods, the researchers measured levels of testosterone and dihydrotestosterone.
- Results: Testosterone levels remained unchanged. Dihydrotestosterone levels increased by a whopping 56%. They remained over 40% even after reducing the dosage.
- Conclusion: creatine may increase the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone.
Now that we’ve observed how creatine may cause acne let’s talk about whether you should take creatine at all.
When Should I Use Creatine?
You work out at the gym or engage in any sporting activities.
Why you ask? The answer to that depends a great deal on your physical condition.
You see, it’s unlikely that Simone Biles or Carl Lewis or some other Olympic athlete is reading my article. But, if you’re a generally active person who likes to stay fit, you are likely to benefit significantly from creatine (8, 9).
Creatine supplements increase strength, fat-free mass, and muscle morphology. This is more effective with heavy resistance training than with resistance training (10).
These supplements aid the production of a high energy molecule called Adenosine Triphosphate. This helps the body to perform better during exercise (11).
When You SHOULD NOT Use Creatine
Your skin is genetically prone to acne.
This does not mean that you're the worst candidate for creatine. Still, you should seek the help of a medical practitioner before using it.
This is perhaps the worst part about acne: if you’re born with it, you’re stuck with it.
Your acne issue is not only limited to creatine use but extends to any new activity or trend that you wish to try out.
You have to be careful every time you put something in or on your body, especially on your face.
As an acne-prone individual, do you have second thoughts before trying anything new?
You need to treat creatine in a similar manner. The reaction of any supplement varies from person to person. Research shows that only a tiny percentage of people have bodies that react badly to creatine.
This means that while there are little chances of suffering from acne due to creatine, the risk is still there.
At the end of the day, you must decide for yourself. My goal is just to help you make an educated one.
The dosage also matters since a high amount of creatine may trigger acne and other side effects according to this study (12).
Potential Risks Associated with Creatine
Here’s a list of the potential issues that could arise with the use of creatine. This is an essential read for anyone concerned with the health risks of creatine.
For your convenience, I have also pointed out whether each side effect leads to acne or not.
Dehydration and Cramps
Creatine diverts water content towards muscle cells so that they may grow. This leads to dehydration, which, in turn, can be a cause of acne, like I discussed earlier in detail.
However, research has shown that the volume of water diverted by creatine is very minute. This gives more weight to the argument that it is less likely that creatine is directly linked with acne.
Increased Hormonal Levels
Creatine does not only increase hormones in men. Studies have also shown the same results for women and children.
Androgens produced in the skin stimulate the sebaceous glands. A form of these androgens is dihydrotestosterone.
In young individuals, this can be a cause of prepubertal acne. In women, however, androstenedione is a major pre-hormone for dihydrotestosterone.
Creatine can lead to an increase in all such hormones, thus leading to acne (13).
Another study suggested that some clinics suspect acne to be a side effect of creatine. This is the case when men, in their post-puberty stage, use creatine. Mood swings and other side effects were also noted (14).
Other Side Effects
Apart from all the above, creatine may also cause weight gain and digestive problems. So you need to keep that in mind before you use it.
How to Prevent Acne While Taking Creatine
Look, I know most of you will still take creatine regardless of what I just said. For the vast majority of people, the pros outweigh the cons by a significant margin.
Keeping that in mind, I have prepared a list of ways you could further reduce the odds of acne when taking creatine:
Water indeed is the cure for everything. What's more, is that drinking enough of it could potentially save you from a lot of diseases in your life.
Some people find it a nuisance to keep drinking water, because oh boy, the bathroom breaks are endless!
But, if you don’t want your face filled with the red bumps, you need to find a way around your frustrations with water.
Focus on eating lots of fruits and fresh juices to make up for the water deficiency that creatine may cause.
The old saying holds true here: you are what you eat.
If you want to start being healthy, you will have to go back to those fruits and veggies that you have been avoiding.
Fruits and vegetables contain nutrients that are essential for a healthy body. Hence, eating them will safeguard you from adverse chain reactions sometimes caused by creatine.
Not only do fruits help with muscle health, but they also act as a great form of hydration in your everyday routine.
The timing matters as well, so be sure to eat the right meals at the right time. Unfortunately, this means that you will have to lay off on those tempting cheeseburgers for a while!
Do Not Go Overboard
We’ve all been there. The pressures of a big day often make us resort to excessive doses of performance boosters.
And many times, this can be very dangerous for our bodies, even though we may not realize this at the time.
According to research, the side effects of creatine are visible only if you consume a high dosage. Thus, it is vital that you don’t overtake it.
Know Which Form of Creatine is Best Suited for You
A lot of people wonder whether one form of creatine is better than another. I’m sure you’re familiar with the different types – Effervescent, ethyl ester and so on – so let's not get into that.
The question is, is one form more likely to prevent acne than another? Surprisingly, the answer is yes!
Research has suggested that creatine monohydrate is the best form of this wonderful supplement. It has been around the longest, and extensive research shows that it has the best safety record (20).
Creatine monohydrate reportedly caused no adverse effects when used for 2 to 5 years.
Be Aware of Your Body
Having discussed all the side effects, it may very well still be the case that my friend’s acne wasn’t actually a result of creatine.
If you suffer from any illnesses or conditions, make sure to know what exactly is leading to the acne on your skin. Try to observe your surroundings, the answer may be staring you in the face all along (forgive the pun!).
Finding the root cause of acne is important because you can only treat it once its origin comes to light.
With over a century of research behind it, it would be an understatement to say that creatine has been around the block for a while now. With over 500 studies proving that it is both safe and effective, it is no wonder why it’s one of the hottest supplements on the planet today.
Not only is creatine safe to consume but it can also be helpful in treating certain diseases in medical settings (23).
Even so, as with anything, creatine also has its own shortcomings. Indirectly, it can be one of the causes of acne, especially for those of you who are already genetically prone to it.
Luckily, the benefits of creatine outweigh its shortcomings by a mile. The best way to deal with it is to use it in the recommended dosage of your body. Alongside this, you should take any and all measures to avoid any unwanted effects.
Don't think of creatine in the same way as you would with steroids or other supplements with a bad stigma. The proper use of creatine will never lead to any major health issues (24).
I’m glad I had my trainer by my side when I was first starting out, and let me tell you, he helped me a great deal. So it might be a good idea to consult your trainer if you have one, or a medical professional.
If something is still bothering you, just leave a comment and I’ll personally write back to you as soon as I can.