Yes. Using Anabolic Steroids Dramatically Increases the Risk of Developing Acne, Including Severe Acne.
The Essential Info
Using anabolic steroids, especially testosterone, is highly correlated with acne development. In other words, if you take anabolic steroids, your chances of developing acne on the face and the body, including severe and scarring acne, increase dramatically.
Why is this the case? Anabolic steroids increase the amount of skin oil produced in skin pores, and people with more skin oil tend to have more acne and more severe cases of acne.
Abuse of steroids can cause other serious conditions as well, including liver damage and heart problems. They can also cause less serious, but still troubling and irreversible problems, such as gynecomastia (breast growth in men), balding, thickened skin, excessive body hair growth, and premature aging.
Because anabolic steroids can be damaging to the body and skin, they should be taken only under strict guidance from a medical professional, only when absolutely necessary, and for the shortest time possible.
The Bottom Line – Don’t Use Them: Using anabolic steroids means you are not only most likely going to develop acne, and potentially severe acne, you are also risking living with irreversible negative consequences for the rest of your life. If you want to look more muscular, consider a less damaging over-the-counter supplement that has been proven to work, such as creatine monohydrate (google it–you’ll find tons of info on it, it works, and it’s inexpensive).
- How Anabolic Steroids Cause Acne
- The Evidence: Anabolic Steroids Cause Acne
- Side Effects of Anabolic Steroids
- The Bottom Line
Steroid hormones naturally exist in the human body. They are responsible for important body processes that include the development of sex organs, as well as the formation of the immune and stress response.
Anabolic steroids, also called anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS), are a subtype of male steroid hormones called androgen steroids. One common and familiar anabolic steroid is testosterone. Even though anabolic steroids are male hormones, they are also found in females at a much lower concentration.
Anabolic steroids have two functions:
- Anabolic function: Grow the skeletal muscles. This is why athletes and bodybuilders sometimes abuse them for this purpose.
- Androgenic function: Promote male sex characteristics, such as hair growth, balding, thickened skin, and deeper voice.
While anabolic steroids naturally exist in the body, they can also be man-made and supplemented through either injecting into muscle tissue or swallowed orally.
Although doctors use anabolic steroids to treat a variety of health conditions, including delayed puberty, reduced sex drive, and the wasting of the body due to severe diseases like HIV/AIDS and cancer, anabolic steroid treatment can cause severe side effects, including, but not limited to, hormonal imbalances, breast growth in men, atrophy of the testicles, hypertension, liver damage, heart problems, hair loss, excessive hair growth, and skin problems like acne.1
How Anabolic Steroids Cause Acne
It is well-known that anabolic steroids directly cause acne, and anyone who takes anabolic steroids should be prepared for breakouts. Anabolic steroid-induced acne may be severe and may occur on the face as well as the body.
The reason anabolic steroids lead to acne is relatively simple. They increase the production of skin oil (sebum) in the pores of the skin. Increased sebum production normally leads to more acne.2
Adding evidence to the connection between anabolic steroids and acne, other studies that have focused on castrated men who do not have androgen steroid hormones have found that due to a lack of androgen steroid hormones, castrated men “do not develop acne.” However, scientists can observe acne in castrated men who receive testosterone replacement.2,3
The Evidence: Anabolic Steroids Cause Acne
The evidence that anabolic steroids lead to acne is strong:
- One study found that people with naturally high levels of testosterone tend to notice more acne.4
- Six studies showed that externally administered anabolic steroids also cause increased acne.5-10
- One case report described a 22-year-old patient who developed very severe acne after AAS injections.11
Expand to read details of studies
Side Effects of Anabolic Steroids
The following are the most common side effects from anabolic steroid use:8,12
And here we can see what side effects anabolic steroid users report:
The above side effects represent only some of the myriad of side effects that anabolic steroids may lead to.
The Bottom Line
Anabolic steroids, especially testosterone, are highly correlated with acne development. Additionally, abuse of steroids can cause other undesirable side effects like reduced testicular volume and breast growth in men. They can also cause serious conditions, including liver damage and heart problems. Anabolic steroids can be damaging to the body and skin and should be taken only under strict guidance from a medical professional.
- Kuhn, C. Anabolic steroids. Recent Prog. Horm. Res. 57, 411 – 434 (2002). https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/0bc1/fc3860260aed749952d7d0692f5d1dd79d42.pdf
- Degitz, K., Placzek, M., Borelli, C. & Plewig, G. Pathophysiology of acne. J. Dtsch. Dermatol. Ges. 5, 316 – 323 (2007). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17376098
- Leyden, J. et al. A systemic type I 5 α-reductase inhibitor is ineffective in the treatment of acne vulgaris. J. Am. Acad. Dermatol. 50, 443 – 447 (2004). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14988688
- Lawrence, D. Shaw, M. & Katz, M. Elevated free testosterone concentration in men and women with acne vulgaris. Clin. Exp. Dermatol. 11, 263 – 273 (1986). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2943538
- Bagatell, C., Heiman, J. R., Matsumodo, A. M., Rivier, J. E. & Bremner, W. J. Metabolic and behavioral effects of high-dose, exogenous testosterone in healthy men. J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metabol. 79, 561 – 567 (1994). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8045977
- Bhasin, S. et al. The effects of supraphysiologic doses of testosterone on muscle size and strength in normal men. New Eng. J. Med. 335, 1 – 7 (1996). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8637535
- Evans, N. Gym and tonic: a profile of 100 male steroid users. Br. J. Sports Med. 31, 53 – 58 (1997). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9132214
- Melnik, B. Jansen, T. & Grabbe, S. Abuse of anabolic-androgenic steroids and bodybuilding acne: an underestimated health problem. J. Dtsch. Dermatol. Ges. 5, 110 – 117 (2007). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17274777
- Smit, D. L. & de Ronde, W. Outpatient clinic for users of anabolic androgenic steroids: an overview. Neth. J. Med. 76, 167 (2018). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29845939
- Horwitz, H., Andersen, J. T. & Dalhoff, K. P. Health consequences of androgenic anabolic steroid use. J. Intern. Med. 285, 333-340 (2019). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30460728
- Voelcker, V., Sticherling, M. & Bauerschmitz, J. Severe ulcerated ‘bodybuilding acne’ caused by anabolic steroid use and exacerbated by isotretinoin. Int. Wound J. 7, 199-201 (2010). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20602651
- Hartgens, F. & Kuipers, H. Effects of androgenic-anabolic steroids in athletes. Sports Med. 34, 513 – 554 (2014). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15248788