Does protein powder cause acne or spots?

Your skin is a window to your health. How poetic that sounds, but it’s true! Our skin can tell us when we’re not getting enough water, when you might need more of a certain vitamin or mineral, and it can even indicate if you’re eating something that might not be agreeing with you. Having bad skin doesn’t just impact or reflect on your physical health, it can also cause your self esteem to suffer. Well, it did with me, anyway! 

I have suffered with poor skin and acne since I was a teenager, but since going vegan almost 5 years ago, I have noticed that, the majority of the time, my skin looks much clearer. So it came as something of a shock to me that there is such a debate about whether your protein shake can give you spots, or even cause acne. Immediately, I wanted to put down my protein shake and do a full face cleanse, just in case. 

In this guide, we’ll look at some of the causes of acne, and if protein shakes can lead you to developing acne and spots.

What is acne? 

Acne is a common skin condition which causes spots, mainly on the face, back, and chest and, whilst it is usually associated with teenagers and younger adults, it can affect anyone, no matter your age. I was gutted when I found out that I wouldn’t just ‘grow out’ of having bad skin! 

It is believed that around 10% of the world’s population has acne. Acne affects such a large number of people because there are so many different causes of acne, including stress and hormonal changes, as well as contributing genetic factors. Over 80% of those who suffer from acne are thought to be genetically predisposed to the condition, due to acne being present in the family. 

Although more research needs to be done to build a definite link, there’s also evidence to suggest that dairy products can result in acne, or a development in skin conditions. Other factors implicated in the development of acne include poor sleep, air pollution, high sugar diets, the improper use of cosmetics, and exposure to the sun (remember your SPF, people!) 

So what does acne have to do with protein powder? 

Whey protein powder is rich in two amino acids which cause cells to divide and grow more rapidly, leucine and glutamine. Whilst this is beneficial for the growth of muscle, it is also thought to be a cause of acne. 

These amino acids can also be attributed to the development of acne in young people, as they encourage the production of higher levels of insulin, which is linked to the development of acne. Consuming dairy products, including whey protein, raises the liver’s production of a hormone called IGF-1 (which stands for insulin-like growth factor 1). A study even found a link between the severity of acne development and the use of whey protein powder, although more research is needed from a scientific point of view. 

Foods that you are sensitive or intolerant to can also be a cause of acne and spots developing, so if you are sensitive to dairy products, but still want to enjoy a protein shake with a happy stomach and clear skin, then you are best off looking for a protein powder which doesn’t contain any allergens. The Vivo Life Protein Powder Collection is completely allergen-free, making it much less likely to have an effect on your skin. PERFORM even includes turmeric, which can prevent the growth of bacteria linked to acne! 

Currently, limited research has been performed to say for certain whether whey is a direct cause of acne, but evidence, including a study of bodybuilders developing acne after using whey protein, does suggest that there is a correlation. It is also suggested however, that various artificial substances can also contribute to poor skin and the onset of acne, so choosing a high quality supplement will also help you to look out for your skin. 

In summary, then, whilst there is not enough evidence to suggest a strong correlation between whey protein and acne, using a high quality plant-based supplement is less likely to cause a reaction, both in terms of your overall digestion, and also with regards to your skin. 

Remember, if you’re concerned about your skin, then make sure to see a healthcare professional, but these are my top tips for helping healthy skin: 

  • Wear SPF (Sunscreen) every day
  • Stay hydrated
  • Use a high quality plant-based protein powder, preferably with turmeric
  • Take a Vitamin D3 supplement - especially in the Winter! 
  • Improve your sleep hygiene and routine
  • Eat lots of fresh fruit and veg. 
  • Drink green tea
  • Ditch dairy and other animal products.