4 Best Protein Powders That Don't Cause Acne

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Published by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: March 20, 2024
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If a protein shake is the first thing you turn to after a challenging workout, only to find out it's the reason behind your acne outbreak – is it something you'll just have to live with?

As an expert in dietary supplements, I'll help you find alternatives that could nourish your muscles without causing skin problems. We came up with a list of protein powder substitute, as well as a dietary approach to treat acne.

If you're ready to make that change, find out which protein brands to consider, as well as the products you should avoid.

Quick Summary

  • The best protein powder that doesn't cause acne is organic pea protein powders, naked pea protein powder, vega one plant-based all-in-one shake, and optimum nutrition gold standard plant-based protein.
  • Some proteins cause acne because they are based on dairy products.
  • Individuals with acne and on protein powders can improve their skin by taking vitamins, omega 3s, probiotics, and enzymes.
  • Consider plant-based proteins like pea, hemp, or brown rice protein to minimize acne while maintaining nutritional benefits.

Top Protein Brands To Avoid Acne

So, anyone who wants to buy protein powder that doesn't cause acne right now, let me show you a few options.

1. Orgain Organic Plant-Based Powder

This is our favorite dairy-free protein because it ticks all the right boxes. It contains a mix of pea, chia seed, and rice protein, all from certified non-GMO sources.

There’s no sugar or artificial sweeteners, and it even provides a boost of dietary fiber to help digestion.

2. Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Plant-Based Protein

Optimum Nutrition is another brand we like a lot, and this one provides a blend of sacha inchi, pea, and brown rice protein, all from non-GMO sources.

Performance athletes will also like that it includes 4 grams of BCAAs, which may help with improved recovery times.

3. Vega One Plant-Based All in One Shake

Here’s a product that we like to recommend as more of a meal replacement than just a protein shake. Mainly based on pea protein, it also provides a boost of vitamins, Omega-3, fiber, and probiotics.

And the low carb content shouldn’t impact your blood sugar levels too much.

4. Naked Pea Protein Powder

If you just want a pure protein source with nothing else added, then this might be your best protein option. It’s based on yellow pea protein, which tends to be easy for the body to absorb.

And with a total of 27 grams per serving, it’s one of the pea protein products that are good for you, especially for bodybuilders.

See also our article about the best pea protein brands.

Dietary Approach to Treat Acne

A low-glycemic diet may help manage and prevent acne by stabilizing blood sugar levels and reducing inflammation. Here are sample meal plans and recipes to support this approach:

Breakfast:

  • Greek Yogurt Parfait: Layer Greek yogurt with berries and a sprinkle of almonds. Add a drizzle of honey for sweetness.
  • Oatmeal: Cook rolled oats with water or almond milk and top with sliced apples, cinnamon, and a few chopped walnuts.

Lunch:

  • Quinoa Salad: Mix cooked quinoa with cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, and chickpeas. Dress with olive oil and lemon juice.
  • Grilled Chicken Wrap: Use whole-grain tortillas to wrap grilled chicken, mixed greens, and a dollop of hummus.

Snacks:

  • Carrot Sticks with Hummus: Dip carrot sticks into a low-fat hummus.
  • Almonds and Berries: A handful of almonds and a cup of mixed berries.

Dinner:

  • Baked Salmon: Season salmon fillets with herbs and bake. Serve with steamed broccoli and quinoa.
  • Vegetable Stir-Fry: Sauté mixed vegetables and tofu in olive oil and low-sodium soy sauce. Serve over brown rice.

Dessert:

  • Chia Seed Pudding: Mix chia seeds with unsweetened almond milk, vanilla extract, and a touch of stevia. Let it sit until it thickens, then top with berries.

These recipes prioritize whole, unprocessed foods with a low glycemic index, emphasizing lean proteins, complex carbs, and plenty of colorful vegetables and fruits. Staying hydrated with water and herbal teas can also support skin health.

Remember that dietary changes may take time to show results, and individual responses can vary, so it's essential to consult with a dermatologist for a personalized approach to acne management.

Why Do Some Protein Powders Cause Acne?

man cleaning up his acne

Some protein powders cause acne because they are boldly based on dairy products. I remember the constant battle with breakouts every time I consumed dairy-based proteins.

It was a frustrating experience, as dairy is one of the main enemies for anyone, like me, who strives to keep their acne under control with care [1].

The added problem you have during heavy exercise or bulking phases is that the added muscle strain also causes the release of testosterone and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1).

Combining increased serum IGF and a dairy product might just be the recipe for disaster and a reason quite a few bodybuilders have problems controlling their acne [2].

Let’s take a look at the type of protein powder that doesn't cause acne flare-ups.

“What you choose to mix in your shake may also play a role in your acne breakouts as well. If you’re adding skim milk, well, you might be compounding the problem you’re already getting with the whey and casein proteins.”

- Emily Shiffer, Writer at Menshealth.com.

What Do You Need To Look Out For?

The advice our dietitian provided ultimately came down to finding the best protein option while keeping the following five things in mind.

1. Try Plant-Based Protein Powder

brown rice grains

Most non-vegans will pretty much always go for whey protein isolate as their main source of post-workout protein.

But one way to immediately rule out your supplement as the cause of your acne problem is to switch to plant-based protein powders.

There are many tasty options like brown rice, soy, pumpkin seed, and pea protein.

But a new recommendation in the diet industry is hemp protein.

The reason is that it’s the only plant-based option that contains the full range of amino acids.

That way, you can avoid blending different proteins to get the full amino acid profile.

2. Avoid Whey Protein Powder

Many people rely on casein and whey protein powder as their go-to recovery shake. But going dairy-free might just be your best possible option.

While whey protein powder tends to be the more common problem for people with acne, casein might have very similar effects.

If you don’t want to switch to plant proteins, then an alternative is an egg white powder. It doesn’t seem to cause issues for your skin and is one of the best dairy-free options.

But no matter what alternative protein source you choose, always check for added ingredients.

Here’s the first thing to look for.

3. Check For Sugar Content

sugar cubes in a jar

Way too many protein powders have a lot of added sugar that wreaks havoc on your skin.

I recall a personal experiment a few months ago where I realized my skin flare-ups correlated with the cheap whey protein powders I was using, all loaded with sugar to enhance the taste.

Unfortunately, it’s also becoming more common with plant-based protein powders.

The problem with all types of added sugar is that it causes sudden blood sugar spikes.

And studies have found that a sugar rush causes acne to get a lot worse [3].

The lower the amount of sugar on the label, the better, even if that means that it doesn’t taste quite so nice.

Related:

4. Stay Away From Artificial Sweeteners

Similar to the regular sugar, we’ve seen more and more dairy and plant-based protein supplements full of chemical sweeteners.

These are often ingredients that are difficult to pronounce. It’s as common in soy protein as it is in pea protein powder, so make sure you pay close attention.

While it might not be as severe as with natural sugar, there is an increased chance of them causing hormonal imbalances, which for some people is a significant factor in their acne issues.

5. Find A Soy-Free Vegan Certified Option

soy beans in a bowl

One of the more popular vegan protein powders is soy, but this might be a plant protein you would want to skip altogether.

Even if you don’t have an intolerance or allergy to soy, there is evidence that soy might cause hormonal imbalances that can easily trigger acne breakouts [4].

Related: Best Soy Protein Powders

Benefits Of Added Ingredients

vitamins and minerals

Our dietitian also recommended that people with acne look for some added ingredients to help them better control their skin condition effectively.

1. Vitamins

The two most important ones would be vitamins D and A, as the skin needs these to repair and rebuild new skin cells. It’s not something you find in many protein powders, so you might need to compare a few different labels.

Also, check for vitamin B12 content, as some scientists believe that excessive amounts of B12 may trigger more oil production and inflammation.

2. Probiotics

Most folks just think of these as helping with gut health, but some research also suggests that probiotics might improve your skin health as well.

If you can’t find a protein powder that contains probiotics, then it might be a good idea to buy a separate probiotic supplement to take as part of protein diets.

3. Omega 3s

You’ll find that some plant-based protein powders have added omega-3s, and they often try to remain vegan friendly by sourcing it from seaweed and algae.

Omega-3s are known to have anti-inflammatory benefits, which might limit some of the side effects of severe acne.

4. Enzymes

One final thing to look out for is digestive enzymes that may help to break down certain problematic nutrients more efficiently.

As much as you try to avoid acne-causing ingredients, some will always sneak in. And if you can find a protein powder with added enzymes, then you may get some added relief for your skin.

FAQs

Do All Protein Powders Cause Acne?

No, not all protein powders cause acne. It’s mostly the milk-based proteins that have the most significant impact on skin conditions because they tend to increase inflammation.

Does Creatine Affect Acne?

No, creatine doesn’t affect acne. However, you may want to avoid large doses if you have very sensitive skin. There is evidence that it can boost growth hormone production, which is known to aggravate acne.

Is Whey Protein Bad for Acne?

Yes, whey protein is bad for acne for most people. Most milk-based products have been shown to aggravate skin inflammation, and whey protein may also increase growth hormone levels, significantly influencing how severe an acne flare-up can be.

Is Egg White Protein Bad for Acne?

No, egg white protein isn’t bad for acne. It’s an excellent alternative to whey if you don’t want to switch to plant products, and it’s something your body can still easily digest and process.

Have You Made Your Next Protein Powder Choice?

If you’re a regular gym-goer and struggle with keeping control of your acne, then the first thing you need to do is stay away from the whey protein powders.

Switch to vegan protein powders instead and lookout for added ingredients in some of the products available.

You’ll still get all the benefits for your muscles and exercise recovery without the dreaded flare-ups.

Once you’ve tried one of our recommendations, please let us know on social media how it worked out for you.


References:

  1. https://www.menshealth.com/health/a19546380/protein-shakes-and-acne/
  2. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamadermatology/fullarticle/393279
  3. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/causes/diet
  4. https://www.byrdie.com/which-foods-cause-breakouts-4688626
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About The Author

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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