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4 Best Protein Powders That Don’t Cause Acne
And Why It Occurs

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: July 14, 2021

I know that for most of my clients, a whey protein shake is the first thing they turn to after a tough gym session.

But for a lot of people, the benefits they get for their muscle growth just don’t seem to be worth it when that protein causes acne outbreaks.

The unfortunate reality is that the food you eat and drink often is the number one reason for acne to flare up, and many supplements don’t make it any easier.

So, we decided to team up with a dietitian to talk us through some of the common causes, and what types of ingredients could cause acne to get worse.

Why Do Some Protein Powders Cause Acne?

man cleaning up his acne

Some protein powders cause acne because they are based on dairy products.

Unfortunately, dairy is one of the main enemies for anyone who wants to keep their acne under control [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 is to switch to plant-based protein powders.

There are many 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 could be your best option.

While whey 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 can cause havoc on your skin.

I did a test a few months ago, and pretty much every cheap whey protein powder was full of sugar to make it more appealing.

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: 6 Best Protein Powders For Diabetics

4. Stay Away From Artificial Sweeteners

Similar to the regular sugar, we’ve seen more and more dairy and plant-based protein powder 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.

Related: 5 Best Protein Powder Without Artificial Sweeteners

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.

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

Related: Best Soy Protein Powders

Benefits Of Added Ingredients

vitamins

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

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.

Now let’s turn to some product recommendations.

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 favored 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 products that might suit bodybuilders most.

See other best pea protein brands.

FAQs

Does All Protein Powder Cause Acne?

No, not all protein powder causes acne. It’s mostly the milk-based proteins that have the most significant impacts on skin conditions as they may cause increased inflammation.

Does Creatine Affect Acne?

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

Is Whey Protein Bad for Acne?

Yes, whey protein is bad for acne in most people. Most milk-based products have been shown to aggravate skin inflammation, and whey protein may also increase growth hormone levels. These can significantly interfere with 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 a good 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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And Why It Occurs

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