Does Whey Protein Cause Acne?

Written by Carina Fabia

Last updated on: Oct 01, 2022

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The invention of whey protein led to the development of a more efficient way to help people bulk up and gain muscle mass. This supplement quickly became popular among athletes and bodybuilders who were looking for an edge in their workouts.

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However, at the same time, some people have reported experiencing acne breakouts after taking whey protein supplements. While the jury is still out on whether or not whey protein actually causes acne, there are some theories as to how it might contribute to the formation of pimples.

In fact, there are several studies that have assessed the usage, activity level afterward (and before), and other factors in determining their correlation with the formation of pimples or even chronic acne.

In this article, we will explore the potential link between whey protein and acne, as well as some potential solutions for people who are struggling with breakouts.

What is Whey Protein?

Whey protein is a type of protein supplement made from milk. It’s typically sold in powder form and can be added to shakes, smoothies, and other drinks.

Whey protein is a complete protein, meaning it contains all of the essential amino acids your body needs to build muscle. It’s also a rich source of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which have been shown to promote muscle growth and recovery after exercise (1).

For these reasons, whey protein is often touted as a helpful supplement for people looking to gain muscle mass and improve their exercise performance.

How Might Whey Protein Cause Acne?

There are a few ways in which whey protein might contribute to the development of acne. One possibility is that whey protein supplements can cause spikes in insulin levels. Insulin is a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels. When insulin levels rise, it signals your body to store more fat (2).

This increased fat storage can lead to higher levels of androgen hormones, such as testosterone. Androgens are involved in the development of acne (3).

Another theory is that whey protein can promote the growth of certain types of bacteria that are linked to acne. One study found that people who took whey protein supplements had an increase in a type of bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) (4).

P. acnes is a type of bacteria that lives on your skin and feeds on sebum, the oily substance that your skin produces. When P. acnes bacteria multiply, they can cause inflammation (5) and lead to the development of acne.

In addition, whey protein contains a high level of leucine, an amino acid that has been shown to stimulate cell growth (6). This increased cell growth can promote the formation of acne lesions.

Can It Get Worse If I Continue Using Whey Proteins After Acne?

If you continue to use whey protein supplements after you’ve started breaking out, your acne may worsen. Additionally, if you’re using whey protein as a weight-loss supplement, you may be inadvertently making your acne worse. This is because crash dieting or rapid weight loss can also trigger breakouts (7).

So, if you’re trying to lose weight and clear up your skin, it’s best to do so in a slow and steady manner. And, if you think whey protein is triggering your breakouts, it’s best to discontinue usage – at least for a little while.

Do Any Studies Show That Whey Protein Causes Acne?

There is some evidence to support the idea that whey protein supplements can cause acne breakouts.

One study looked at the effects of whey protein on a group of 54 teenage swimmers. The boys were given whey protein supplements, and their acne was monitored over the course of eight weeks. The study found that the boys who took whey protein had a significant increase in acne lesions, but at the same time, it did help reduce inflammation as well (8).

Another study looked at the effects of whey protein on a group of 30 men. The men were given whey protein supplements, and their testosterone levels were monitored over the course of eight weeks. At the same time, some were given placebos to see the impact of mental thought processes on testosterone levels. The study found that the men who took whey protein had a significant increase in testosterone levels (9).

While these studies are small and don’t necessarily prove that whey protein causes acne, they do suggest that there may be a link between the two.

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What Are Some Potential Solutions for Whey Protein-Induced Acne?

If you’re struggling with acne breakouts, there are a few things you can do to help manage the problem. First, consider reducing your intake of whey protein. If you’re taking whey protein supplements, try cutting back on the amount you take or eliminating them from your diet altogether.

If you’re eating foods that are high in whey protein, such as whey protein bars or shakes, try reducing your intake of these foods or eliminating them from your diet altogether.

Second, consider taking a probiotic supplement. Probiotics are live bacteria that can help promote a healthy balance of microbes in your gut. They’ve been shown to help reduce acne breakouts (8). Make sure to cleanse your face thoroughly every day. Use a gentle cleanser and avoid scrubbing your skin too harshly.

Next, apply a topical retinoid cream to your skin. Retinoids are vitamin A derivatives that have been shown to help reduce acne breakouts. Finally, see a dermatologist if your acne breakouts are severe. A dermatologist can prescribe medication that can help clear up your skin.

Are There Any Whey Proteins That Doesn't Cause Acne?

Yes, there are some types of whey protein that don’t cause acne.

One type of whey protein is hydrolysate. Hydrolysate whey protein has been pre-digested, which means it’s easier for your body to absorb. This makes it less likely to cause spikes in insulin and testosterone levels.

Another type of whey protein is an isolate. Whey protein isolate has been filtered to remove most of the fat and lactose. This makes it less likely to cause acne breakouts.

If you’re struggling with acne, consider switching to a hydrolysate or isolate whey protein powder. You may also want to try a plant-based protein powder, such as pea protein powder. Pea protein powder is less likely to cause acne breakouts.

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