Can Whey Protein Powder Really Cause You To Breakout?

In the great debate on which protein powder to use, whey has proved a strong contender for ages. Gym-goers favor whey for its quick absorption and amino acid content, both essential qualities for those looking to support their gains. "Whey protein contains branched-chain amino acids, a specific type of amino acid that helps with muscle building," registered dietitian Maxine Smith tells the Cleveland Clinic. However, one concern has fitness enthusiasts questioning if it's worth using the nutritional supplement, and that's whether it could be to blame for triggering breakouts. Since The American Academy of Dermatology reported a possible relationship between milk and acne, it's only natural to wonder about whey protein.

Investigations regarding food's effects on the skin aren't new, although dairy is one of the latest culprits. In 1969, a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association sought to determine whether chocolate was the cause of overactive sebum glands and concluded that there was no connection between the two. However, scientists sometimes struggle to agree on whether certain foods impact skin health. The chocolate study, for example, has been debunked as recently as 2016 by researchers published in The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, who uncovered increased breakouts in participants who regularly consumed chocolate. So, what does this mean for those who are partial to whey supplements for working out? Can you have your shake and good skin, too?

The truth about whey protein and acne might surprise you

Please don't throw your mug cake at us. The science behind whey protein's impact on breakouts is pretty straightforward, and it might disappoint you. "Whey protein is responsible for the effects of milk that stimulate the production and activity of insulin, which may contribute more to acne than the actual fat or dairy content," nutritionist Jessica Sepel tells Aedit. Several studies support Sepel's claims, and, unfortunately, breakouts from whey are more noticeable in women than men, according to a report by The Brazilian Society of Dermatology. Despite this, men aren't immune to whey-related skin problems. Research published in Health Promotion Perspectives found that whey protein exacerbated body acne in a small-scale study.

On social media, current and former whey protein users agree that they've noticed breakouts stemming from the supplement. "Four days into taking [whey protein powder], I was already noticing acne in places I'd never usually get it ... I stopped using it [and] any pimples which were active during my consumption are now fading," writes Redditor Bigfootchaz. Some users claim that increasing water intake and washing their face more often can help counteract breakouts from whey, but for those prone to acne, it may not be worth the risk.

How to enjoy protein supplements without compromising your complexion

The good news for those willing to stray from whey is that plant-based protein has gained serious traction in recent years, and you're no longer limited to basic choices like chocolate and vanilla. One non-dairy protein that's won over reviewers is Orgain's Plant Based Protein Powder, which comes in several flavors, including seasonal options like Pumpkin Spice and Vanilla Horchata, at around $23.99 per canister.

Some may struggle with acne even after swapping in plant-based protein powder. "If someone makes the switch but is still experiencing issues, I would omit protein powder altogether and seek the help of a doctor or dermatologist to get to the root of the issue," nutritionist Thalia Renucci tells Cosmpolitan. Those suffering from severe acne or cystic breakouts may find that other interventions are needed beyond diet to support clear skin.

If you're on the fence, you can reduce your whey protein intake to observe any changes in your complexion. Still, individuals susceptible to acne might want to abstain from ingredients that can aggravate the skin. "A ton of people consuming milk, whey protein, and hideous junk food diets don't have acne — and vice versa," Dr. Hilary Baldwin tells Self. So, while diet can play a role in skin health, some may notice detrimental effects in the form of breakouts while others remain unaffected on the surface level. The bottom line is that if you're vulnerable to blemishes, it's probably best to steer clear of whey.