Bodybuilder’s Guide To Acne-Free Skin And Big Gains

Bodybuilder’s Guide To Acne-Free Skin And Big Gains

Some bodybuilders face a frustrating dilemma. Going to the gym messes up their skin, something known as bodybuilding acne. Unfortunately for acne-prone people bodybuilding and clear skin can be inherently opposing goals. The more gains you make on one front the more you slip back on the other.

In this post I’ll explain the surprising truth of why bodybuilding causes acne. We’ll also cover some tips on how to maximize your gains without wrecking your face.

Let’s start by looking at the most common explanation for bodybuilding acne, increased testosterone levels as a result of weight lifting.

Hormonal response to bodybuilding as cause of acne?

Contrary to popular perception bodybuilding doesn’t cause big hormonal changes. Weight training session causes short-term increases in testosterone, growth hormone and insulin like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) levels, but levels quickly return back to normal.

In contrast, bodybuilding alone doesn’t seem to cause any long-term changes in hormone levels. For example resting levels of growth hormone are more or less identical in Olympic weight lifters and normal people.


Increased testosterone levels can easily lead to acne. In a study where men were given testosterone as birth control about half developed mild acne (source). Similarly, both men and women with acne show elevated testosterone levels – as compared to those with healthy skin (source). And if you are thinking of taking steroids consider that a German study showed acne occurs in about 50% of people abusing steroids.

Testosterone is especially problematic since the skin converts it to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a far more acne-stimulating hormone. Studies have shown that the higher T levels lead to higher DHT production and higher risk of acne. In The Ultimate Guide to Hormonal Acne I explained how these hormones lead to acne.

Weight training increases testosterone levels for about 30 minutes, after which the levels return to their pre-training levels. But it’s not at all clear whether weight training causes long-term changes in resting T levels. Some studies show weight lifting increases resting T levels, some show no change.

Very intense weight training, bordering or pushing into overtraining, may increase resting testosterone levels, but levels drop back to normal when training intensity reduces. At least one study showed no drop in resting T levels after stopping weight training for 6 weeks.

So a tentative conclusion from studies is that under normal training load resting testosterone levels remain stable.

And it’s hard to say whether the acute changes after workout make any difference to acne, probably not.

Testosterone precursors

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a testosterone precursor, meaning the body converts it to testosterone. Because of this it’s commonly taken as bodybuilding supplement, but studies show it doesn’t actually improve muscle gain or strength.

Weight training session elevated DHEA levels and they remain elevated for several hours after the workout. This may increase the risk of acne as DHEA is one of the hormones found elevated in acne patients. The skin converts DHEA to testosterone and DHT that increase sebum production and lead to blocked pores and acne.

Insulin like growth factor 1 (IGF-1)

IGF-1 is another hormone bodybuilders are interested in. It’s important in protein synthesis and muscle growth. Animal studies show that blocking IGF-1 results in no protein synthesis (and thus also no muscle growth) after resistance training.

IGF-1 is one of the prominent hormones behind acne. Studies have shown correlation between sebum production and IGF-1 levels. IGF-1 also increases the sensitivity of skin to androgen hormones by increasing the conversion of T to DHT. To put it shortly, the higher your IGF-1 levels the higher the risk of getting acne.

Studies show resistance training has similar effect on IGF-1 than testosterone, short-term increase after workout but little to no long-term effects.

Exercise in general improves insulin sensitivity and reduces insulin and IGF-1 levels, especially in people who are not very fit. For those people weight training is probably good for acne. At least one study showed a drop in IGF-1 levels after 10 weeks or weight training in untrained men.


In summary, weight training alone doesn’t seem to lead to any significant hormonal changes that could lead to acne. It’s plausible that heavy training loads cause short-term hormonal fluctuations that are big enough to cause acne, but I wouldn’t bet my house on it.

Bodybuilding diet and supplements as the culprits?

If weight training itself doesn’t cause acne, then how can we explain increased acne in bodybuilders? I think it comes down to diet and supplements.

In my previous post about whey protein I looked at studies on protein powders. Compared to weight training alone or carbohydrate supplements protein powders increase both acute and resting IGF-1 levels. Whey protein is derived from milk, a food notorious for causing acne.

Much like carbohydrates, protein triggers insulin release from the pancreas. When it comes to acne, insulin is just as bad as IGF-1 as they both stimulate sebum production and increase sensitivity of the skin to androgens. These hormones are cited as the reasons why sugar and simple carbohydrates trigger acne is some people.

Given all this I can definitely see how taking protein powders increases the risk of acne – but dairy and soy-based protein powders are especially bad for acne.

Caloric intake

Eat big to grow big. How many times you’ve read that advice on bodybuilding forums and book? And it’s good advice, eating more helps you to grow bigger. Unfortunately it also helps you to get more acne.

Insulin acts as storage hormone and is affected by both protein and carbohydrate intake, as intake goes up so do insulin levels. And IGF-1 levels usually follow insulin levels.

It’s not uncommon for bodybuilders to eat 4000 to 5000 calories per day during bulking phase. Such massive caloric intake causes significantly elevated insulin and IGF-1 levels, which translate into increased sebum production and skin cell growth in acne-prone people.

Simple sugars and pre- and post-workout drinks

Aside from dairy products, studies have also linked sugars, simple carbohydrates and other high GI foods to acne. Glycemic index measures how quickly a food increases blood sugar levels. Sugars and simple carbohydrates that are digested in a snap make their way into the bloodstream within minutes of digestion and thus score high on GI. Complex carbohydrates have much gentler impact on blood sugar levels.

Foods with high GI often stimulate higher insulin and IGF-1 release than low GI foods, and that’s why they cause acne in some people.

Some bodybuilders take pre- and post-workout drinks that are high in simple sugars. The rationale is that this increases insulin and IGF-1 levels and helps to drive more protein into the muscles. As we’ve covered many times already these same hormones also lead to acne.

Muscle building shakes are yet another possible cause for acne. They are often high in calories, protein and simple carbohydrates, and that’s 3 strikes for the skin.

Omega-3:6 balance

Studies have shown acne patients are under higher inflammatory burden than those with clear skin. While there are no studies linking omega-3:6 balance to acne, too much omega-6 in relation to omega-3 has been speculated to increase inflammation and contribute to many health problems (source). That’s why I err to the side of caution and list omega-3:6 imbalance as one of the factors that contribute to acne.

The problem is that many bodybuilding staple foods, like chicken, meat and eggs, are excessively high in omega-6 fats but low in omega-3. Without omega-3 rich foods to balance this you run the risk of increasing inflammation in the body with its associated health problems (increased risk of acne, heart disease and many other inflammatory health conditions).

One easy way to balance things is to switch to omega-3 eggs, which have far healthier omega-3:6 balance. See my article on omega-3 eggs for more on these eggs and omega-3:6 ratio in general. Fish and sea food is another good source for omega-3 fats.


In summary, diet and supplement practices that increase your risk of acne are protein powders, muscle building shakes (high in carbohydrates, protein and calories), eating excessive calories and sugars and simple carbohydrates with high glycemic index. Imbalanced omega-3:6 ratio increases inflammation in the body and possibly also contributes to acne.

Genetics matter

One thing that confuses people about acne is how it doesn’t strike everyone doing the same thing. I’ve lost count of the times somebody tells me about a person who they know who eats nothing but junk and still remains clear.

That’s because genetics determine how likely you are to get acne. Genes don’t cause acne as such, but they make acne-prone skin excessively sensitive to androgen hormones. So that they can trigger acne even at normal levels.

How to clear bodybuilding acne

Let’s switch gears and talk briefly about how to fix bodybuilding induced acne.

Switch to acne-safe protein powder

Dairy and soy-based protein powders are the most likely to cause acne. Consider plant-based, non-soy proteins as a safer alternative.

Take a zinc supplement

Studies have shown zinc works almost as well as oral antibiotics – read more how zinc treats acne here.


Topical DHT blockers

Certain substances can hinder the conversion of T to DHT. When applied to the skin they can reduce sebum production and acne. These include green tea extract and saw palmetto.

Please see the skincare for hormonal acne page for more details and recommendations.

  • Solid topical treatment regimen. A good topical treatment regimen can undo lot of the damage genes cause. In addition to normal face wash (don’t use soap on acne-prone skin) you should use morning and evening creams that contain benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid or tea tree oil. Benzoyl peroxide can be drying and harsh on the skin, so it’s a good idea to follow it up with a soothing moisturizer.
  • Don’t over wash. If washing 2 times per day is good then 4 times must be better. Not quite. Washing too often or using too many products on your skin usually does more harm than good. Wash twice a day, and use plain water if you have to clean your face more often than that.


  • Mind your diet. Minimize dairy and simple carbohydrates from your diet.
  • Switch to omega-3 eggs and include other omega-3 rich foods into your diet.
  • Test common acne trigger foods. Gluten, soy, peanuts and citrus fruits are known to trigger acne for some people. It’s worth it to eliminate these from your diet for 2 to 3 weeks to see if they have any effect.

Other tips

  • Balance gains with clear skin. For people prone to acne big gains and clear skin may be inherently opposing goals. Protein powders, mass building shakes and overeating all help you to gain muscle but may also trigger acne. Consider if the boost you get from these is worth the price paid by your skin.
  • Prescription drugs. Accutane is a decent option for those with severe acne. The side-effects are generally overhyped and only amount to minor irritations for most people. Oral antibiotics often cause more harm than help.


Bodybuilding triggers acne for some people. One possible mechanism is increased testosterone and hormone levels. Though this is unlikely, as research shows levels return to normal within 30 minutes of the workout. Taking supplements and overeating to increase gains is a far more likely cause. All of these are known to increase insulin and IGF-1 levels, hormones that can stimulate sebum production and cause acne.

The implication is that acne shouldn’t be a problem for recreational bodybuilders eating normal diet. However going beyond that increases your chance of getting acne, and you have to judge whether the boost in gains is worth the risk.

About Me

Hi, I am Acne Einstein(a.k.a. Seppo Puusa). I'm a bit of a science nerd who is also passionate about health. I enjoy digging through medical journals for acne treatment gems I can share here. You can read more about my journey through acne and how I eventually ended up creating this.

91 thoughts on “Bodybuilder’s Guide To Acne-Free Skin And Big Gains”

  1. Hi 🙂 i had a severe acne on my face and im a fitness addict. Is there any possible solution to reduce my acne without stop bodybuilding? Should i stop drinking whey protein and dairy skimmed milk? Im really in dilemma right now 🙁

    • I don’t think there’s anything about bodybuilding as such that causes acne. Based on the research I’ve seen, it doesn’t cause any long-term hormonal changes. It’s more the whey protein, other supplements and eating excess calories that causes acne.

      I would change whey protein to soy protein and as far as possible keep dairy out of your diet.

      • Well, with that one statement regarding ingesting soy protein instead of whey is enough to undermine your entire article as soy blocks the production of testosterone. As a male, do not take soy protein. This may explain why your photo looks like you need to drop the soy.

        • I suggest relying more on facts and science than rumors and ‘broscience’ you hear at the gym. Soy does not block T. Taking soy protein has little to no long term effect on T levels. It’s true that soy protein to some degree blunts increase of T following weight lifting but this seems to have no long term effects. For a good overview of studies on soy and testosterone, see this post:

  2. Terve Seppo,

    Thanks for great info! I started weight lifting seriously in January and what I have now is .. zits. Plus some muscle (maybe). But now that I know why that is it’ll be easier to handle.

    • Terve Jenny! Unfortunately bodybuilding and acne sometimes go hand in hand. I don’t think it’s so much about bodybuilding but about overeating and the supplements people often take.

  3. Soy protein is a horrible idea for a male period. It will hinder your lifting goals tremendously and cause a raise in estrogen levels. Stick with a whey protein isolate or if you feel that is against your skin needs go with whole food with high bio-availability like eggs whites or hard boiled eggs (whites only). and try supplementing with vitamin B5 to help keep skin blemish free.

    • This is one of those myths that just keeps going regardless of how much science shows it’s just not true. Soy has little to no effect on hormone levels in men, this has been shown in several studies now. I wrote about soy earlier. Check that post for all the details.

  4. Is it possible to bodybuild after youve cleared your skin? Should I expect acne coming back when I start increasing my intake of calories to gain mass? In other words, when I get clearer skin and less acne prone skin (does that even exist? can you decrease sensitivity to hormones and inflammation?) will bodybuilding be possible for me? Im 16, if thats of any help.

    • You can never get rid of your susceptibility to acne (and hormones). So yes, if, after getting clear, you start doing things that increase insulin and angrogen levels, then you can expect your acne to come back.

      I’m sure it’s possible to build muscle and have clear skin. But you have to keep in mind that there’s an inherent conflict between the two. So you probably have to make some compromises and find a balance between them.

  5. Will eating excess calories still mess up insulin levels even I avoid dairy, refined carbs, and make sure every meal has a low glycemic load?

    • It will to some degree, but I can’t say how much. It’s not as bad as eating a lot of sugar, but when you eat more than your body needs it puts the body into a fat storage mode that’s always somewhat detrimental to insulin sensitivity.

  6. I think this is a solid article but I have a question.

    “Animal studies show that blocking IGF-1 results in no protein synthesis (and thus muscle growth) after resistance training.”

    So you’re saying that no protein synthesis leads to muscle growth? This confuses me..

  7. Some of the things been said in this article and the comments are ridiculous. If you wonder why bodybuilders often have acne it is due to their usage of anabolic steroids. will lifting weights cause acne? No. does whey protein cause acne? No. infact its very good for you! Despite common misconception there really isn’t a link between diet and acne, it all comes down to hormone levels. But by far the most incorrect and ridiculous thing written is that excess calories causes acne!… just LOL! dont believe a word guys and happy bodybuilding! keep clear of steroids and you’ll have no skin issues.

  8. Hi, nice article but I have a few issue with it. From my personal experience I have moderate acne when I train and eat healthy (including whey and milk). I have tried to make many adjustment to my diet to see if there was any improvement in my skin and as far as cutting back on whey and dairy not change at all. However when I go on holiday for a few weeks and I eat a lot (including cheese and desserts) as well as drink alcohol but no exercise at all my skin clears up.
    Also I have tried BP and SA products and if they do anything other than aggravating my acne it still not as good as when I don’t use them and don’t train.
    So to me it seems more than working out gives me acne more than the type of food I eat.
    I train 5 times a week, one day per muscle group.

    So far I haven’t found any solution to this, I like to train but now it doesn’t seems to be worth it anymore

    • Max, you getting clear during holidays could have less to do with not training and more to do with getting away from stresses and hassles of normal life.

      • I don’t think so I am a student and I am not really stress in general. Also I had some holidays and kept training at the same time and still got acne. So to me it’s clearly a sign of hormones effects. I’m not saying that food such as sugary goods don’t aggravate it but most of it comes from working out hence hormonal response.

        • OK, you know your situation better than I do. The studies I looked showed that the hormonal effects of weight lifting are transient and very short-lived, probably not enough to affect your skin. But the studies only report averages and it’s possible some people have stronger response.

  9. This was a horrible article. Whey protein and calorie intake have no affect on acne whatsoever. This guy is a hippie and obviously from looking at his picture he is not a bodybuilder. Genetics and steroids are what causes acne due to this topic. Med Student-UCD

    • Obviously you don’t lift either, not every person who workout takes steroids, stop being so simple minded. Increases of hormones following intense workout can lead to acne as well as what you eat can encourage it.

    • It’s always nice to receive rational and well-thought feedback.. I suppose you don’t care to address the studies and case reports linking whey protein consumption to acne? Or perhaps you are too busy lifting and prefer to leave the actual science to ‘us hippies’?

  10. Very nice article! I’ve suddenly had acne ever since I started weightlifting and it’s so frustrating! I think it may be the whey protein. I’ll try eliminating that and see what happens. I appreciate the scientific data here as that seems be lacking in other articles. Anyway, thanks!

  11. I like the article, I was wondering how you feel about beef protein isolate. It says free of lactose but it does contain creatine and bcaa’s. I took one scoop the other day and have a few bumps on my face now..I don’t understand why its effecting my skin because there’s no whey or lactose

      • is this means vegan protein powder as well. because i have been taking pea protein (with no falvours / addictives just plain) twice a day and still get acne. so could this be an issue. so if i replace it with whole food, will that solve the problem then?

        • Yes, but the keyword is ‘to some degree’. Dairy-based proteins are far more likely to cause acne than non-dairy proteins.

    • Ey Man! I have been taking the same protein powder ( beef isolate with bcaa and creatine). Since i have stopped taking it, breakouts have dissapeared. I have noticed that most protein powder are correlated with bumps. I have noticed too that we are more sensitive to protein powder than high caloric intakes.
      Drop all your supplements for two weeks and you’ll see big changes

  12. For me this is true i was
    Lifiting weight when i was 15 i would eat 6 meals a day 3 protien shakes a day an had perfect skin. But when turned 16 i had nasty cystic acne breakout all over my face so i had to stop bodybuilding. Im 17 now an about to turn 18. My acne has cleared but not completely. I started lifting again an it seems if im breaking out again please help?

  13. Hello. I wrote my experience and i have made my own research. I’ll write my conclusions:

    – The most important factor is overeating. When you are cutting, most of your acne will desappear. You can eat some dairy products and nothing will happen.
    -If you are overeating, acne will increase. You can’t do anything, it will appear. In fact, when you are gaining weight, acne appears. Dairy products and protein shakes are even worse during bulking. The same occurs to with bccas.
    I have a question about overeating. Do you think that meal frequency is important? And the caloric intake of each meal? Let me explain, Would it be the same to have a low caloric breakfast and then a high caloric ( high carb) lunch, or it would be better to divide your carbs in several meals, so your insuline levels would be more stable?
    I’m used to eat most carbs during my workout ( Pre workout meal and post).
    I know that sebum production increase because I also suffer from seborreic dermatitis, and it appears when I’m bulking and dissapears when I’m cutting

    Thanks for your time. Best regards!

    • Thanks for sharing your findings!

      I’ve started recently going to gym again. I also started taking whey protein and consuming more milk. So far my skin has remained clear. But I’m also cutting calories to lose fat. Have to see what happens once the weight loss phase is over and I can up my calories again.

      There’s some research to show that by eating more in the morning and less in the evening you can reduce insulin and other acne-related hormones. I don’t know if dividing your calories into several smaller meals would help. Eating more fat and less carbs should help.

      On a general note, I would also avoid the typical bulking/cutting cycle. There’s very little research to show that overeating a lot increases lean mass. I did fid 1 study that showed overeating did also increase lean mass, but I don’t know if the small additional gains are worth it. I personally would limit overeating to a few hundred calories per day. That way you should also be able to avoid the worst effects on your skin.

  14. Your jump to Accutane as a good option for people with severe acne, saying that the “side effects are largely overhyped” is extremely irresponsible. Accutane is a very serious last-resort type medication for only the most severe cystic acne that has not shown improvement from topical retinoids and abx therapy. In addition to the severe liver enzyme elevation that requires monthly monitoring, it’s also been linked to suicide in a number of patients in the UK. Just thought I would mention that there are a whole host of pharmaceutical interventions besides what we consider to be the nuclear option for acne, so please be careful about which ones you recommend people seek out from their physicians.

    • If you have some actual data to support your argument, please share it. I know Accutane can cause serious side effects for some people, but all credible data I’ve seen shows only a small fraction of people get severe side effects. I covered side effects in more detail in this post.

  15. I started a more intense training routine along with bulking and using whey protein creatine and bcaas during my first few months of gym and my acne became very bad. A couple of months ago however i decided i would cut dairy from my diet (only milk with oats cereal) and switch to pea protein isolate, not only does it digest easily i feel that it has made no changes to my skin and the acne although still present is improving. Creatine i have also stopped as i dont feel it is neccessary when traning for an aesthetic goal. The current supplements i use are cnp prolean fat burner, l argnine, chromium picolinate and l carnitine. All of these i do not feel affect my skin and the fat burner probably helps due to the antioxidants it contains. I would also recommend drinking 2-3 cups of green tea per day

    • It’s probably a very bad idea. That supplement says it’s complex carbohydrate, but it’s refined to the point where I guess it’s not that different from sugar. The reason some corn, sweet potatoes and other foods have low GI is because the sugars need to be separated from fiber, and breaking down fiber takes time. There’s no fiber in that supplement and I presume that the enzymes in your saliva and small intestine break down the complex carbs to sugar very, very rapidly.

      If you want to supplement your diet with complex carbs, I suggest eating corn, sweet potatoes and other real foods.

      Another point. On the side I’m also writing a site about weight lifting ( In the process I’ve looked at lot of the studies on gaining muscle. There’s very, very little evidence that eating massive amounts of calories actually helps you to build more muscle. It may, but the scientific support for it is very weak. And I think the negatives of overloading your body with calories far outweigh the potential gains. I personally wouldn’t eat more than a few hundred calories over my caloric needs, and I’ve managed to put on a lot of lean mass even on weight loss diet.

  16. I agree with most of the things you’ve written. Over time I have tested how diet/lifting effects acne. I think diet is bigger then lifting for causing breakouts but also lifting during stressful times when your cortisol is already out of whack seems to cause breakouts in some people too. Try a paleo diet to get your essentials and limit high insulin response foods. And a cleanse (juice cleanse recommended) if your currently breaking out to remove already built up toxins/ bad gut bacteria simply put. Then slowly up your intake of healthy foods and you will see slow but solid results in the gym. This is the best way to go believe me.. if you up your calories significantly you will breakout (not everybody depends on genetics) but also you mess up your digestive tract/ or atleast put strain on it and you will add fat that you will just have to lose later while not making a significant difference on your gains.


  17. Oh and for supplements everybody should be on BCAA’s ( most important imo)… a protein.. I use plant protein taste like shit but paleo mindset you know its meant to go in your system. glutamine fastest absorbed.. just do it awesome recov.. zma.. sleep is important but some people might breakout on this.. AND if you just dont give a fuck and you want to get huge and considering steriods. try fenugreek extract (torabolic) save yourself the 100 chemical peels 😉

  18. I know for a fact I suffer from hormonal acne due to genetics. I lift weights and I’m trying to bodybuild in spite of my skin condition. Whey shakes and milk based protein wreck my skin to a terrible extent so I’ve completely banished those as an option. I’ve read up on meat based protein powders such as MuscleMed’s Carnivor protein powder and some reviewers of them have said that they have not experienced acne breakouts like they did with whey based protein supplements. Meat based protein powder sounded too good to be true but there are tons of positive reviews on the internet and it has no cholesterol, no fat, no sodium, no sugar and hardly any calories per a serving. What is your take on this? Will the meat based protein powder still cause an acne flare up regardless? Or does moderate intake of protein of any kind carry the risk of causing acne even if its from fish or meat?

    • All protein powders, to some degree, are acnegenic. Combining high insulin with lots of leucine activates the mTor-pathway, which is sort of a master regulator protein in acne. Whey spikes both insulin and leucine, and that’s probably why it causes acne to some people. Other protein powders should be safer, but keep in mind that they also have the potential to cause acne – just not as much as dairy-based proteins.

  19. Great article !
    But I have a question : if we already have high DHEA-S, high cortisol and low progesterone (but normal testosterone), can we broke out even from a short high intensity training if we are sensible to even little hormonal changes (like I am) ? It seems that even if I eat very well (strict AIP paleo), I broke out from even a little half hour of bodyweight training. Urgh.

    • It seems you answered your own question. It’s impossible for me to say what’s happening in your situation. It’s possible your skin is hypersensitive to cortisol. There’s some test tube data to show cortisol increases sebum production and triggers the release of pro-inflammatory messages from skin cells. High-intensity exercise triggers a massive increase in cortisol levels. That could explain what happens to you, but it’s impossible to say for sure. Does your skin respond to stress? If so, that’s additional clue that points towards cortisol.

      • I know your post wasn’t aimed at me, but I think my skin definitely responds to stress/cortisol – which would explain why I tend to break out after heavy weight lifting (my diet is junk/dairy free too), Do you think drinking green tea before and after lifting sessions would help in reducing the effect of the cortisol on my skin? I haven’t tried drinking it yet, but having read your blog posts about it, it sounds very promising.

        • It’s possible, but I have no reliable data to say either way. Also, keep in mind that blunting the cortisol repose to lifting might also reduce your muscle gains.

    • interesting. im in a similar situation as yourself. (also on a strict diet, vegan)
      ive noticed that i get a new pimple or two a day after i work out.

      ive got 2 guesses.
      cortisol from high intensity training or
      lactic acid ( muscle soreness and acne seem to coincide with me), but i dont see any studies or people talking about this.

  20. What a brilliant article – thank you so much for the time and effort! I will be taking this well balanced advice and making some serious changes to the high supplement diet I am on, switching to whole foods and more omega 3 type foods. Awesome!

  21. update: i stopped talking any form of dairy for about a month now, and 95% of all my cystic jaw line acne is gone. i also stopped talking all bodybuilding supplements (whey, bcaa, preworkout).

    backstory: i started lifting in October, eating a lot of food. Heavy bulking. i was doing fine until 5 months later when my face broke out just as bad as when i was a teenager (also my forehead did as well, which has never happened before). i believe that it took those 5 months for my body to become resistant to insulin.

    i eat anti-imflammitory food as well. which helps me

    my skin is still really oily. and im still getting breakouts, but not as much as when i was on dairy.

    (there are certain foods i had to cut out of my diet because they did the same thing right after i ate them, for instance i would mix peanut butter, oatmeal, and greekyogurt. that made my skin super oily)

  22. Hello,
    Your site has really inspired me to dig deeper and really research causes behind acne. My hormonal acne has been driving me crazy lately and today I’ve finally put two and two together. My revelation has to do with the mTOR pathway and IGF-1 levels that you have mentioned on your site. I admit I’m a fitness addict and have been supplementing with whey isolate, BCAA’s and upping my protein intake for the past couple of months. I have developed awesome muscle but its come at a cost. I am going to stop supplementing with whey, BCAA and reduce my protein intake to more “normal” levels. However, stopping working out and strength training is out of the question for me, its too important for my happiness and stress reduction.
    However I will make some big changes. I will switch my protein to soy protein isolate and use only strategically after workouts. My question is how can I offset cortisol production (which can also cause acne) after an intense workout? Usually I take a high GI carb like dextrose. If I cut that out, what else can I do?? Or is a high GI carb, when used when really needed, ok?

    Immense thanks to all you do. You really help people and your dedication to your site is really impressive.


    • Glad to hear you like the site!

      I’m not sure you need to offset post-exercise cortisol spike. Cortisol may or may not aggravate acne, nothing has been proven. And even if it did, the post-exercise increase in cortisol doesn’t last for very long (an hour or two). Unless you have some very good evidence that it’s the post-exercise cortisol spike that causes your acne, then I wouldn’t worry about it.

      High GI carbs can be a problem for people with hormonal-type acne. But if you take them after exercise then they most likely won’t cause any problems. What we want to avoid are long-lasting increases in blood sugar and insulin levels. My guess is that a high GI drink after exercise session won’t cause acne.

  23. Sorry, but you are so damn wrong. Lifting weights CAN cause acne. I have had problems with acne for several years while working out. I quit lifting weights for two months just to see if there would be any improvement to my skin, and my acne almost disappeared entirely. I tried taking up my training again the other week, hoping it wouldn’t cause acne. Within a day, it did. And it got worse as the week of intense training progressed. I made sure not to eat differently or take supplements, in order to rule out that possibility.

    It is so ironic: I have been lifting weights to improve my appearance, confidence, but now it turns out that it was weight lifting that ruined it.

    • Sorry to hear.. that must suck. I do standby what I said in this article. That for most people weight lifting only causes transient increase in hormones and it’s unlikely that alone will trigger acne. That said, it doesn’t surprise me to hear that some people are more sensitive and breakout from just weight lifting.

    • It depends on your acne type. If you are like me who has inflammatory-type acne linked to gut issues, then soy could be very bad. Soy makes me constipated and shows up on my skin a day later. On the other hand, if you have hormonal-type acne and get pimples from whey protein, then soy could be a feasible alternative.

  24. Hey there, nice facts man. I really really need help man. I’m 15 years old and about im about 125 pounds and love to play football. I’m also a acne suffer. I take whey protein and try to eat 5-6 healthy meals a day. I eat ALOT of fruits and veggies. Drink 10 or more bottles of water a day.. Workout 1-2x a day, running too. I just can’t seem to find results. Everyone at school, even family members, look at me a lot. I hate the feeling. This what keeps me going. I wanna build a lot of muscle and look handsome.. But it just won’t work. Please respond.I really really want your help. I eat nuts, PB, meat, rice, etc. For fats.

    • I wash my face 2 times a day with face wash. I have scars on my cheeks and a little on my forehead. I get zits every now and then. Any suggestions? I wanna get bigger but how am I suppose to do it without eating more and getting protein? I feel alo

    • I can’t say much based on this. It could be just that you are at the age where most people get acne and that it’s hard to get over it. I would advice you to look into gut issues as a potential trigger.

  25. hi this is a very informative article. i have been struggling acene for last 10 months since i start lifting. before that i was having sinsible amount of gluten and having complex carbs such as rice pasta and more veges and less protein, since i start lifting i’m in high protein diet and at the begining i have been taking whey protein powder but cut them out completly and switch with pea protein powders. the acene is beter than before but i’m still getting them on every other day is this could be high protein diet. i dont take any form of dairy and my meals consist of brown rice, fruits & veges, pea protein, chicken egg and peanut butter and 2 slice of whole wheat bread.. and BCAA suplement. any idea what could be the cause….

    • Hi Danus,

      Hard to say based on what you wrote. Could be many things. Did I understand correctly that you started getting acne after you started lifting? And before that you were clear?

      If so, there are 2 possibilities:

      1. It comes down to hormones from bodybuilding and the supplements you are taking.

      2. You’ve changed your diet after you started lifting and there’s something in your new diet that doesn’t agree with you. Have you noticed you get more gut problems since you changed your diet? Things like constipation, loose stools, feeling gassy, bloating, etc.? It’s possible some of the complex carbs you are eating don’t agree with your gut.

      For #1, your best bet is to cut out all supplements for a while to see if that helps. If yes, you can reintroduce them back one by one to see what caused the problem.

      For #2, you need to figure out what, if any, of the foods you eat more now don’t agree with you.

      • i agree with your second point, i have been getting bloated as the day progress..
        before lifting i was weightning 50kg which is underweight for my age. i was very serious about what goes in my mouth.
        so my typical meals would be:
        morning: 2 whetabix biscuit + apple + (coffee with 2 teaspoon of dry skim milk powder + 1 tsb sugar)

        lunch: 80g cooked brown rice + veges(brocoli, cauliflower, peas) + 50g chicken/ fish
        afternoon snack: 1 apple, coffee (same as i have in morning or sometime with no milk powder)
        dinner: same as lunch

        i was doing this for last 3 years and my daily calories were 1400. and haven’t had any acne. before this i used to get acne when i was in high school, eating choclate, fatty foods. so i thought fat is making me break out and start having the above strict diet.

        but last year i started bulking up and going to gym. actually the first 6 months i didn’t get any acne but i have put lot of mass and my face was clear. i was having clean food such as lean chicken breast, lean beef, nuts, brown rice, also having oats as well.

        but at the time i reach to 65-70 kg and start cutting i started get acne and my face is ruined.
        first i thought the supplements is the issue, but i have stopped taking all the supplement except pea protein powder (twice a day). when i was taking whey i was feeling gassy and bloated as well. but i have stopped whey and any type of dairy 6months ago.. but now i’m eating 2000 calories a day, i still fell bloated at evening and never have to same flat stomach as i have in morning.

        i have a huge break fast. i try to have my carbs high in morning and reduce them as the day progress. so i’m guessing that a big breakfast may be the problem for my acne, i stopped having eggs in morning as well. i have oats, 1 banana, carrot smoothy(150 g carrot, 1 apple)

        my complex carbs are brown rice, oats, buckwheat, lentils, could any of these are more prone to acne?

        • also i’m having two whole wheat bread as part of my complex carbs as well.
          does switching these with potatoes/ sweet potaotes helps?

          • also my macros are 65%carb, 25%protein, 10% fat. i have reduce my fat and protein, because i use get acne when i as doing 40%protein and 20%fat, so i thought protein digestion release toxin and cause inflamation. and the fat my increase my hormone as well..

          • Nope, protein digestion doesn’t cause toxins and fat doesn’t increase acne-causing hormones. It’s true that if you eat a significant majority of your calories from protein and fat it could have a negative effect on your gut flora. But that would require you to eat little to no fiber.

          • It could help. Wheat has FODMAPs that are known to cause gut issues for some people, including me. Potatoes are a much safer option, both the sweet and regular varieties.

        • Sounds like you might have some bacterial imbalance issues in the gut. Feeling gassy and bloated means there’s some abnormal fermentation going on in the gut, likely caused by some of the carbs you eat. Look into low FODMAP diet.

          • well. the only carbs i take which is high FODMAP is apple (2-3 servings a day). actually today i have experiment by having only 1 apple with a teaspoon with almond butter and see whether a light breakfast helps, it seems alright but every time after i eat apple start cramping i think it is apple which causing me fermentation. also oatmeals are gluten as well could this be also a reason why i’m still breaking out. actually i dont think i’m a gluten sensitive becasue when i was underweight i didn’t had any acne and i was eating 2 whole wheat biscuit and 1 medium white baguette every night, could be that i had low carb in take thought the day and had high carb meal at night didn’t cause me any break out. also i have just read an article
            which suggest that eliminate all types of grains including rice as well. any suggestion on this.

          • FODMAPs are the most common sources of gas and bloating, but it’s possible in your case they are caused by something else.

            Gluten can cause acne in some people, but I’m skeptical it’s a widespread problem.

            Grains can cause acne for the above mentioned problems, some of them are also high GI. So eliminating grains could help some people.

          • does this mean that i have ibs /sibo, well the bloating and cramping seems to be cause by these issues i guess. may be i should start doing food elimination in my diet. but not sure wheter the gaps diet or fodmap diet.. gap diet seems to have some food which are avoided in low fodmap diet, such as apple, legumes, green peas which are causing me issue. but fod map diet allows grains and oats,, so i’m run out of conclusion.. i have also started taking glutamine as well. i think since i stopped taking it the acne get started..

          • Excessive gas, bloating, cramping, etc. is usually a sign if IBS/SIBO. I’m working to put together a comprehensive plan to fix those issues, but it’s still work in progress. They will be included with the next update of my book. I would go with FODMAP diet. GAPS, while it might work, is not based on science and it’s hard to evaluate it.

          • ok.. i think i have developed a candida..
            i’m getting a numbness on my face (tingling) after i eat carbs, such as white rice, fruits..
            i think this may because when i was bulking i was taking dextrose, oats and bananas as my post workout which may cause yeast infection in my gut..

          • Please talk to a doctor or other health professional about this. What you say about candida is plausible, but you need to get checked by a doctor.

  26. Hi ….I loved ur article
    But i have been using mass gainer …I completed one full pack of 3kgs n gained 3 kilos muscle …but when using second pack …before i used to take 2 scoops everyday now on second pack i used to take 4 scoops …so just wanted to know that it relate to my acne ? …because now m suffering from big pimples coming on my nose ..

    • Those mass gainers aren’t particularly healthy. They are usually loaded with whey protein, sugar and fats. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear they cause acne.

      • That means supplements are shit …. They are the main cause of acne…..which brand to trust now … Help me ….

        • i use to take weight-gainers before. but now i create my own with oats, rice protein powder and bananas… keep in note i try to get my calories from whole food as possible and take weight gainers to fit my remaining calories. stay away from simple sugars replace with them fruit atleast they don’t spike your insulin crazy like simple sugar because of fibre contents, you can experiment with other fruits as well like apples, pineapple if you are fine with it..

  27. I’ve had acne all my life since I was a teen. I take med’s for my breakouts which control them to some extent, but doesn’t clear up the issue a hundred percent.

    I lift as part of a healthy lifestyle, but I don’t try to get to big. So I don’t eat a lot, or take any supplements. My basic diet is chicken, eggs, and tuna.

    I’ve noticed if I work out 3 or more times a week my breakouts get much worse. It appears the more I work out, the worse the acne breakouts.

    • So this article completes syncs up with my experience. I started a serious workout regimen about 2 years back and got developed severe cystic acne. I used Sprouted brown rice protein powder. I had to stop working out and get an spironolactone to get the acne to clear.

      I started working out again 3 day back and the acne is back as well. I am going to stop the protein powder and check if I need to up my dose of spirono….I was completely acne free for 2 years – during which I did only light workouts and no protein supplements.

      Is sprouted brown rice protein okay? Wondering if I should stop it.

  28. “Accutane is a decent option for those with severe acne. The side-effects are generally overhyped and only amount to minor irritations for most people.”

    I took Accutane when I was a teenager. It made me suicidal. I wouldn’t exactly call that a minor irritation.

  29. Thank you Seppo 🙂 I have had oily, acne-prone skin all my life and thanks your article I now know that my acne problems are attributed to whey and other dairy derivatives. I have since switched to egg whites as substitutes and am considering taking soy protein supplement. I am also contemplating taking BCAA supplements and I would love to hear your thoughts before I try anything else.

    • BCAAs usually contain quite large amounts of leucine, which is partially responsible for the acne-causing effects of whey protein. So my advice would be to be careful with BCAA supplements.

  30. Hi, thank you for this article. I was wondering why you didn’t recommend an alternative vegetable protein such as pea or hemp for a protein drink as opposed to soy? I use pea and hemp protein (mixed) for my protein drink with almond milk instead of real milk. I’ve found that dairy and sugar/carbs break me out almost immediately.


  31. Sorry, but I’m a woman who over the course of 20 years has gone in and out of weight training, and just at a recreational level (not professional bodybuilding) and there is a 100% absolute direct correlation between my use of weight training and my acne. Not only acne in fact, but thinning hair and sprouting chin hairs! I’ve had my estrogen and testosterone tested when not weight training and both are normal. One I start weight lifting, acne is IMMEDIATE, chin hairs are about 1 month in (3x a week lifting), hair loss about 2 months in. Breast size also decreases. If I lay stop lifting, all goes back to normal. My diet remains the same with simply a small increase in caloric intake. This would not account for the chin hair and thinning hair.

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