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Does Whey Protein Powder Cause Acne?

author image Frank Yemi
Frank Yemi has been a professional writer since 2007, and has contributed to several health and fitness magazines. He has worked as a medical fact checker and sports nutritionist in the United Kingdom. Yemi holds a Bachelor of Science in medical physiology, as well as a Master of Science in applied sports nutrition.
Does Whey Protein Powder Cause Acne?
That refreshing protein powder shake may be causing your acne. Photo Credit HandmadePictures/iStock/Getty Images

Whey protein powder is an effective supplement for bodybuilding: One serving of whey protein can provide you with over 30 grams of protein for muscle growth and repair. But some studies have linked whey protein supplementation to acne breakouts. Although genetics is the leading cause of acne, whey protein can cause hormonal activity that leads to acne breakouts in those who are susceptible.

Who Gets Acne?

Acne is a very common skin condition that causes spots or pimples around the face, chest, upper back and shoulders. It's more common among teenagers and young adults, but it can affect anybody. Although the cause of acne is not well-understood, genetics and hormonal changes during adolescence are likely factors. Milk and dairy products such as whey protein contain hormones that may increase sebum, or oil, production in some people, which leads to acne.

Whey Protein Supplementation

Some small-scale studies set out to discover if whey supplementation can lead to acne. One such study, published in a 2013 issue of Brazilian Annals of Dermatology, observed 30 participants who took whey protein supplements. The results revealed that acne breakouts occurred as a result of consuming whey. Females and those with no prior acne breakouts had more prominent symptoms. Another study published in a 2012 issue of Cutis found that five males who experienced acne with whey protein had a relief of symptoms after discontinuing use. A variety of six different whey protein brands were used in the study, which suggests the whey products' quality is not a factor in acne breakouts.

The Underlying Cause

Whey protein and other milk products increase insulinlike growth factor-1, or IGF-I. IGF-1 is a hormone that is believed to support muscle growth, according to the The University of New Mexico. However, it is also linked to an increase in sebum production, which might contribute to acne. When you consume whey protein, it causes an insulin spike, notes a paper published in the "Nestle Nutrition Workshop Series Pediatric Program." This leads to an overgrowth of skin cells, excess inflammation and oil production. In those who are prone, these factors may result in acne lesions.


If you find a correlation between your acne breakouts and whey protein consumption, studies suggest the best option is to discontinue use and consult a doctor for further advice. You may also benefit from restricting your consumption of dairy products in general. Vegan protein powders, such as hemp protein, pea protein or brown rice protein, are nondairy protein supplements. You can also get protein from dietary sources, such as meat, poultry and fish.

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