The One Thing You Didn’t Know About Whey: Does Whey Protein Cause Acne?

The One Thing You Didn’t Know About Whey

Whey protein is really good if you want to bulk up. Just one serving of it can give you around 20 grams of protein which your body can use for repair and growth.

But aside from big muscles, there’s another thing whey protein can give you- acne.

If you’ve been breaking out while on whey protein but you’re not exactly sure if it’s the culprit, then you have your answer now. Whey protein can cause acne and here’s why.

What’s With Whey Protein?

A lot of people don’t realize this, but whey protein is one of those things that can give you a bad breakout.

Whey is a form of protein that’s processed from cow’s milk. It’s the yellowish liquid left after milk is strained.

Because it’s derived from milk, it’s essentially a dairy product.

Milk and dairy, in case you haven’t heard the news yet, are major acne triggers and there are studies to back up that claim.

Similar to other dairy products, whey protein is rich in several hormones. One of the most popular among these hormones is the IGF-1 or the Insulin-like Growth Factor-1.

Normally, you do have your own supply of this hormone but there are mechanisms that work to make sure it doesn’t go out of control.

However, when you drink milk or take your whey protein, you’re basically introducing more IGF-1 to your body and it creates an imbalance. This is when acne happens.

IGF-1 does 3 things to trigger skin breakout:

  • It makes your skin produce excessive oil.
  • It creates more dead skin cells.
  • It makes those cells and oil bond with each other.

The more they clump up means the more your pores become clogged.

Whey Protein and Insulin Spike

Insulin is the hormone responsible for converting the food you ate into useful energy.


Well, take for example a piece of bread. If you eat that bread, it will be broken down into glucose- the form of sugar inside your body.

For that glucose to be used as energy, you need insulin to convert it into glycogen. In case you won’t be using it right away for your activities, it will be converted into glycogen stores instead.

When it comes to whey, because it’s dairy, it can increase your insulin level more than necessary. Once this happens, a series of reactions are initiated.

  • Excess insulin can overstimulate your pores to produce more sebum.
  • The excess oil can clog your pores and make your skin a favorable environment for acne-causing bacteria to grow in numbers.
  • Your body will see these bacteria as threats and trigger an inflammatory response.

The Other Things In Your Whey Protein

Most of today’s whey protein products contain artificial sweeteners, flavors and even colors. These properties make them a lot more dangerous not just for your skin, but for your general health.

They can add up to the toxins already overloading your liver and body. And some of the artificial and commercially produced ingredients, such as the sweetener aspartame, can cause cancer, too.

Is pure whey protein safe?

While buying a 100% whey protein can save you from the artificial ingredients other products contain, it isn’t a complete guarantee that you won’t break out.

Remember, whey is dairy and its relative effects on your insulin are what make it bad for your skin.

Is Whey Protein Bad For Everyone?

Well, I’d have to say not entirely as not everyone who takes whey protein breaks out, right?

But if you do have a particularly acne-prone skin or if you have existing acne, it’s best to steer clear from using this protein source.

It’s also not a good idea to rely on whey protein if you are insulin-resistant or if you have high blood glucose level. The same idea goes if you breakout from eating sweets and simple carbs.

Looking For An Alternative?

Muscle building supplements, in general, contain carbohydrates, protein and vitamins to assist your body. Although they sound healthy, they actually have a high caloric load, which means they can increase your insulin, too.

Considering soy protein?

I think you should also tick that off of your list as soy can disrupt the way your hormones work, particularly estrogen.

Aside from its effects on your hormones, soy protein has also been found to increase IGF-1. Not only that, soy also has the ability to lower your zinc.

And low levels of zinc, in case you’re not aware, is associated with acne.

Soy is also considered a potent allergen to some people. So, it’s really either soy makes them break out or soy causes an allergic reaction people mistake as acne.

What to try instead?

A lot of people are looking into hemp protein as a great alternative to whey protein. It’s primarily from hemp seeds, which are rich in essential fatty acids and have around 25% protein.

And hemp is different from marijuana in that it contains less or even no psychoactive substance to alter your mental function.

Although whey protein can offer you with more protein per scoop, hemp protein, is easily digested and can help improve your digestive health.

A healthy gut is essential for getting rid of acne because it prevents toxins from getting into your systemic circulation and overloading your liver and kidney.

Pea protein is also a good alternative. A typical 33-gram scoop of it can give you around 28 grams of protein.

However, because it is plant-based, it lacks a few essential amino acids you can find in whey protein.

You can also try egg white protein.

Want To Increase Muscle Mass? Take The Natural Solution

If whey protein makes you break out, it doesn’t mean that there’s no other way for you to supplement your muscle enhancing workouts. In fact, the solution is right in your kitchen.

Lean meat contains a high amount of amino acids. They are the less fatty cuts of beef or pork you can buy from the market or your local grocery store.

They are rich in iron to provide your muscles and cells more oxygen and nutrients. And they also have a high mineral content as well as creatine.

But, there’s a catch.

Not all lean meats are created equal- or at least their sources. Some meat can contain synthetic hormones, pesticides, and chemicals that can also trigger acne.

To stay on the safe side, stick with grass-fed meat. Aside from saving you from loads of synthetic ingredients, grass-fed meat also often have anti-inflammatory and cancer-protective properties.

Fishes are also excellent sources of protein, particularly the wild-caught ones. They are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that can tame down inflammation.

Another good solution to increasing your muscle mass is improving your workout.

You don’t necessarily have to invest in big machines and workout equipment to get the body you want. Most of the time, it’s the slow and progressive increase in your workload that forces your muscles to rebuild itself stronger and bigger.

You can start with two full body workout sessions with various resistance training and heavy lifting twice a week. To make sure fatigue won’t stop you from finishing your session, you can start with the larger muscles first.


Whey protein is reliable when it comes to increasing muscle mass. It stimulates your muscles to grow bigger and stronger.

Using it as a supplement, however, can be bad for your skin as whey protein can cause acne- particularly if you have an acne prone skin and high blood sugar level.

As a safer alternative, I highly suggest that you stick with natural solutions.

Eat grass-fed lean meat and improve your workout routine. Not only can these things help you get the body you want, but they can also help you get clearer skin.

The less synthetic ingredients and products you introduce to your body, the less chances for it to react negatively. And that also means less breakouts and acne.

Dr Kathleen May Eusebio-Alpapara

A board-certified dermatologist who practices both medical and cosmetic dermatology

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