Does Whey Protein Powder Cause Breakouts?

does whey protein cause acne

Did you know that the protein powder you have chosen might well be causing you to get acne, and you didn’t even know?

A dermatologist has suggested that if you are drinking high consumption of whey protein, you might be experiencing acne; well, it has been associated with acne.

There isn’t evidence, however, that just modest amounts of whey protein cause acne though.

If you cut out whey protein temporarily or switch over to another plant-based powder, you might notice a difference.

Does Whey Protein Really Cause Acne?

Remember acne can be caused by stress or other skin care products as well…

Dermatologists say that the relationship between dairy food sources and acne is complicated.

Whey protein might be related to breakouts for good reasons and outrageous reasons as well.

With some research done but specific research is inconclusive.

Some suggest that the drying process of making whey protein from cheese production correlates with the dryness of the skin is a wild claim.

In the process, the liquid part filtered during the process of making cheese is dried to form whey.

Protein powder doesn’t automatically mean acne problems.

One dermatologist, Dr. Kathleen C. Suozzi, says that no studies have been carried out to determine if whey protein does directly cause acne or breakouts.

There have been reports that show that there is a connection between skin problems and whey protein [1].

It means that the two might be related, but there is no proof that whey protein causes acne.

In response to the reports, Suozzi said that these reports often focused on bodybuilders, who were known to drink the equivalent of six to 12 liters of milk daily.

Their acne appeared mostly on their backs and chests.

Suozzi did note that there are other variables that could have caused the bodybuilders to have acne flare-ups.

After all, they typically have a high use for anabolic steroids as well [2].

They also have high BMIs [3]. Both of these are associated with too much sebum production leading to skin problems. 

That’s why the relationship between food and acne is actually complicated  

Eggs, for instance, can help you to get better skin.

Suozzi says that there are some foods that are known for causing breakouts. But in the same breath, there are foods that are known to reportedly help you against breakouts.

Suozzi says there is no certainty that certain foods will directly cause you to get acne.

There is data that supports that diets with high glycemic indexes, high in dairy, or high in carbs might be associated with acne.

But all these studies are limited by their methodology – it is very hard to design a randomized controlled trial that will examine the effects of diet on acne.

The studies might show an association, but they cannot determine the cause.

There are heaps of things that are associated with acne

Try insulin levels [4], or carbs and dairy, for example.

Suozzi says the link between breakouts and protein powder is probably due to the protein powder being a milk by-product.

It is not known what other dietary proteins are linked to acne.

One study actually found that a good protein diet results in an improvement in skin health [5].

But this research doesn’t make a conclusion about the relationship between food and breakouts.

Don’t believe that you have to quit protein powders though

First, try to switch over to a different protein powder.

That will be a good start.

Temporarily cut out the one you believe might be affecting your skin.

Maybe you have been overdoing it on your powder and have seen that you have developed acne. Maybe your present one is making your acne worse.

You might notice that you don’t have the same reaction to whey as to another protein powder. Just test it yourself to see for yourself.

The other types of protein powder that you can use instead of whey are plant-based powders.

One skin expert Lisa Harris says yes, whey protein does cause acne – which isn’t ideal for those who battle with breakouts…

You might look at her and say, but why?

And she would probably tell you that whey protein increases the production of a hormone called insulin-like growth factor 1 [6].

It’s also known as IGF-1. Insulin is known to increase the production of sebum and sebum is associated with acne.

Insulin is also known to trigger the production of androgens or hormones.

These overstimulate the oil glands, which in turn cause acne.

Confectionary brand Nestle decided to investigate a further study [7]

They discovered that eating whey protein can lead to a spike in insulin.

This in turn can cause an overgrowth of oil production, skin cells, and inflammation.

That’s the recipe for acne. 

Another small study from the Brazilian Annals of Dermatology discovered that particularly women, particularly those who did previously suffer from acne, suffered from severe outbreaks [8]. 

Lisa Harris says this acne can look sore and inflamed. It is common to see outbreaks on the back and chest area. 

There are a lot of vegan brands and others that sell protein powders that don’t contain whey

It’s of importance to note that the correlation between acne and protein powder has only been found to be in whey protein products.

The link between whey protein as well as other dairy products and breakouts is a concern.

Experts are in agreement that when you supplement whey protein with plant-based protein, you could see a difference.

Lisa says that she always recommends to her clients that they consider a plant-based protein. Vegan proteins like; brown rice protein soy protein and pea protein are safer and healthier than a whey protein supplement.

It’s because it is easier for our bodies to break down and digest plant-based proteins rather than dairy-based ones. 

One dermatologist, Whitney Bowe says that “milk proteins can mess with your ability to process blood sugar efficiently.

This can cause inflammation in your body – particularly in your skin.

This triggers an increase in sebum, the oil produced in your sebaceous glands, possibly leading to acne.”

Ensure your protein powder has minimally processed ingredients in it

There are plenty of wonderful options when it comes to protein supplements on the dietary supplements market.

These are hemp or pea protein, and others.

It is recommended that if you do make the switch and you still experience acne breakouts, you omit protein powder altogether.

It would be advised that you seek the help of a doctor or dermatologist to get to the cause of your issues. 

Breakouts don’t affect everyone in the same way

If you happen to notice that you have started experiencing outbreaks since you started adding whey protein supplements to your diet, it is worth seeing a doctor get advice.

One food group can improve your skin, but cause a host of issues for somebody else. Every person is different, and so is everyone’s skin.

And even the research can be conflicting at times.

The most important action for you is to listen to your own body and look at what works for you or doesn’t work for you.

Remember too, that what you add to your whey protein Supplements can make breakouts worse

Some people like to add extras to their protein shakes to increase muscle mass or maintain body weight. But other articles suggest that treatments including benzoyl peroxide did not work for teenage boys who had whey protein supplements.

Actually, what you choose can also play a role in your acne breakouts.

For instance, if you are adding skim milk, you might be making the problem worse if you are already getting in the whey and casein proteins.

Skim milk has extra casein and whey proteins compared to regular ones.

You might believe that when you pick a fat-free option like skim milk, you are being extra health-conscious. But they actually contain the same amount of whey protein that higher-fat dairy products have.

Other whey protein isolate side effects and related problems
  • Insulin increases
  • overreliance on whey protein isolate rather than whole food sources.
  • Higher protein content from processed food
It might not even be your protein shake that’s responsible – it might be your workout routine [9] that is to blame

Athletes often experience acne flare-ups from wearing their athletic gear more than once. Maybe they use the same dirty towel for an entire week. The reality is acne breakout is not all dairy products related.

Genetic factors or even body fat may trigger acne flares and not only by consuming whey protein supplements.

Maybe they share helmets and other of their protective gear. Remember that bacteria, oil, and dead skin can clog the pores. 


 When it comes to acne breakouts, lots of time the blame is put on the door of dairy. 

The American Academy of Dermatology says that women who drink two glasses of skim milk every day are 44% more likely to have acne than women who don’t.

They say that cow’s milk is related to people having breakouts across many demographics.

Knowing this, it makes sense that whey protein shake comes under the spotlight as well.

Whey protein isolate provides the body with essential amino acids that digest quickly and that’s why it’s such an efficient source of quick fuel for athletes. Whey and casein are rich in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs).

BCAAs are known for promoting muscle growth, making them a chosen source of nutrition for workouts.

The AAD says that while diary milk might increase the risk of developing acne, there are no studies that suggest that dairy products such as cheese or yogurt lead to acne. 

The idea of dairy causing breakouts isn’t a myth. Cow’s milk which is the main source of whey protein concentrate can increase testosterone production.

This in turn can result in overstimulating oil glands in your skin to overproduce oil that blocks skin pores, giving room for acne.

Both casein and whey protein supplementation can cause breakouts in exactly the way as milk can.

You choose your whey protein habit, you change, you decide – it’s in your hands – ‘whey proteins’ not?