Protein and Acne: 5 Surprising Facts Latest Studies Reveal

Debunking the protein and acne relationship once and for all.

While determining the reasons for acne, have you ever considered protein an option? I bet you haven’t. You could be on a high protein diet for muscle building and probably flaring up with acne. You see, there is a connection.

So, think before consuming those protein shakes after gym sessions if your skin is acne prone. You might be calling a bit of a trouble. This article is going to give you a breakthrough on how protein and acne are related.

How Protein causes Acne?

Acne is caused by a specific type of protein i.e. whey protein. Whey protein is found in cow’s milk along with another protein called casein. Besides, whey protein is something which is quite commonly found in protein powders. Yes, you guessed it right, the ones you consume to pump up iron in the gym.

Dr. Meghan Feely

Dr. Meghan Feely, a New York based dermatologist explains that whey increases the production of a hormone called insulin-like growth factor, simply IGF-1. This hormone increases sebum production which leads to the development of acne.

However, this is not enough to support the connection between acne and protein. Therefore, we have accumulated different studies that highlight the link between protein and pimples.

Studies that Show Protein-Acne Link

Famous confectionery brand, Nestle investigated a study through Nestle Nutrition Workshop Series which was later published in PubMed. The research was termed as the “Evidence of Acne-promoting Effects of Milk & Other Insulinotropic Dairy Products”. (See our detailed post on acne-dairy relation here)

Through this study, Nestle concluded that the consumption of whey protein spikes insulin. Which in turn causes excess oil production and inflammation. Thus, leading to acne.

Another study published in the Brazilian Annals of Dermatology in 2013 observed 30 subjects who consumed whey proteins supplements for 60 days. Onset of acne lesions were observed at the end. And the effect was more prominent in the female candidates.

Apart from this, there are a few more scientific facts that reflect how protein contributes to acne. And also tell how milk protein affects blood sugar. Let’s have a look.

Fact # 1- Milk Protein causes Inability to Process Blood Sugar

How protein affects blood sugar and acne.

Too much milk protein can hinder your body’s ability to process blood sugar, resulting in inflammation. According to Dr. Whitney Bowe, a leading NYC dermatologist and the author of The Beauty of Dirty Skin, “This can cause inflammation in your body-particularly in your skin.”

She further explains, “This triggers an increase in sebum, the oil produced in your sebaceous glands, leading to acne.”

Fact # 2-Skim Milk Can Make Breakouts Worse

The general perspective is that skim milk does not contain fats hence, it does not trigger acne. But in reality, skim milk can make you break out even worse. This is because it contains extra milk proteins as compared to normal cow’s milk. This is done to improve the taste and thickness of skim milk.

Dr. Bowe says, “You might think picking a fat-free option is the health-conscious thing to do, but skim milk actually contains the highest amount of milk proteins than higher fat milk options.”

So, the next time you choose skim milk an option for your acne-prone skin, just consider their heavy protein content and the risk involved.

Fact # 3-Whey Hikes Insulin, that Worsens Acne

Dairy products hike your insulin thrice as much as they should, based on their low glycemic index. When insulin increases in the body, there are more chances of suffering from breakouts.

The reason for this is that insulin abundance produces androgen hormones in the body. When insulin becomes active, it boosts sebum production triggering acne. A research published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests how milk intake increases insulin. 

Other studies also reveal the correlation between milk protein and insulin release. They further conclude that how milk products are three to four times more insulinotropic than expected glycemic indexes.

Fact # 4-Whey Protein Isolate is Better Than Whey Protein Concentrate

whey protein isolate for acne

Whey Protein Isolate is a better option than Whey Protein Concentrate. The major differences between these two involve the processing methods and the amount of fats they contain. Isolate has no fat content present in it.

In addition to this, whey protein concentrate contains more intact milk hormones and it is not fat-free. This is why, whey concentrate is worse than whey isolate. Therefore, you should always prefer whey protein isolate.

Fact # 5-Females Consuming Whey Are More Susceptible to Acne

Upon surveying, Dr. Mona Gohara and her colleagues found a slight increase of acne among women who drink shakes and smoothies brimming with whey protein.

In talk with the Beauty Director of Women’s Health, Maura Lynch, Dr. Gohara said, “According to a research females were found more susceptible to breakouts. The thinking is that whey upregulates our androgenic hormones, such as testosterone, more than men’s, spurring excess sebum production. It also causes an increase in the amount of insulin growth factor our bodies produce, triggering more oil production.”   

So, ladies, it’s time to give those smoothies a break or at least limit them to some extent.

What You Should and Should Not Do?

There are certain things you must be careful about in order to stay pimple-free alongside following a proper gym regimen. Keep note of the following points as they are going to provide you a substitute for whey protein and diet advice for muscle building that also keep your acne at bay.  

Avoid Whey Protein Shakes

Dr. Meghan Feely recommends, “Take a holiday from protein shakes containing whey for a few months and see if your acne improves.” This is really going to help you figure out if it is only whey protein or any other factor that’s giving you blemishes.

There is an ample variety of shakes that hold dairy-free options, such as pea protein, hemp or collagen protein. You can consume them if you are building muscles.

Switch to Plant-based Protein Powders

You do not have to quit protein powder at all. Just switch to a different plant-based powder altogether. You can try egg white protein. It’s not plant-based but does not cause acne. It’s quite salty so you need to blend it with some flavorful ingredients such as banana or almonds into a smoothie.

For a plant-based option, you can try sprouted brown rice protein. It digests easily and has an abundant fiber content too. It is expensive but really worth it.

Try a Paleo Diet

The basic rule in a paleo diet is to eat whole foods and avoid processed foods. This include lots of grass-fed meat, vegetables and healthy fats. And you will refrain from consuming sugary drinks and dairy products. This will help you in gaining muscles and clearing your skin.

Consume Calorie-Bomb Foods for Mass-Gain

Replace oats and butter with good calorie bomb staples such as white rice, potatoes and sweet potatoes. Eat more red meat as it contributes most to muscle building. Eat more but healthy fats such as coconut oil, olive oil and nuts.

These foods eliminate chances of acne and provide sufficient nutrients for body building.

Cut Down Soy Protein

Soy protein needs to be avoided as it can make you break out. Soybeans contain phytoestrogens which are natural plant estrogens. They have a great tendency to reduce the amount of estrogen in the body causing an imbalance in hormones.

If you have balanced estrogen levels and you consume foods high in phytoestrogens, you might suffer from cystic acne. So, ditch the tofu, veggie burgers and soy milk for all seasons.

Maintain Good Hygiene at the Gym

Good Hygiene at the Gym

If you still face breakouts after trying all options on this list then it could be a poor hygiene that is causing you acne.

Dr. Feely highlights, “Athletes may experience acne flares from re-wearing athletic wear, using a dirty towel, or sharing other helmets and other protective gears, as bacteria, oil and dead skin cells may clog pores.”

Hence, you should avoid wearing the same athletic wear again and use a pristine one every single time. And along with that maintain proper hygiene and cleanliness.

Although, this article provides a broad-spectrum knowledge on protein and acne link, experts are still on their way to finding new insights on this connection. However, you should just keep in mind what you need to avoid in order to achieve a clear skin while maintaining a heavy body workout.  

Sheikh has been blogging regularly at CAA for 4 years. He spends majority of his time studying health and technology or participating in discussions about these niches (online or offline).


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here