The Surprising Connection Between Whey Protein And AcnePosted: December 2, 2016
You probably know my stance on dairy, that it has no place in a humans body.
After a workout, many of us scoop some protein powder into a smoothie or scarf down a protein bar to get some quick fuel on-the-go. It’s convenient nutrition that tides you over until you can sit down for a legit meal. But recent research is suggesting that most people’s go-to protein, whey, isn’t as good for skin as it is for muscles. In fact, the milk-derived protein has been linked to acne breakouts.
A few studies done in the past five years have linked whey protein and acne. “The hardcore evidence is skimpy,” Hilary Baldwin, M.D., acne expert and medical director of the Acne Treatment and Research Center in Morristown, New Jersey, tells SELF, but the findings, mixed with anecdotal evidence, present a strong case for eliminating whey if stubborn acne is an issue.
The studies done were small—like, 30 patients or fewer small—but found that many people’s skin cleared up when they cut whey protein from the diet, or conversely, acne increased when adding in whey. Even those whose acne didn’t clear up with traditional meds, including isotrentinoin (Accutane), started to see results. “They failed to respond to traditional therapy until whey protein was discontinued,” says Baldwin.
The reason whey may cause acne is unknown, but there are a few theories. Studies have suggested connection between dairy in general and acne, specifically low or nonfat dairy, which points to whey as a potential culprit. “Whey is a part of milk. It’s mostly what’s left in a skim product,” Baldwin says. After the fat is skimmed off to make cream and the curds removed to make cheese, the liquid whey is what’s left. “That’s what gets dried out and made into [protein] powder,” Baldwin explains.
“If whey does cause acne, one of the theories is that it might do it by increasing insulin and insulin-like growth factor,” Baldwin explains. Whey encourages the production of a peptide in the gut that then stimulates production of the hormone insulin. Since, in addition to its role in blood sugar regulation, insulin is known to influence sebum production, an increase can create the perfect environment for acne.
Though the studies leave us with mere associations and a need for more conclusive research, Baldwin says that she and other dermatologists she’s spoken with have seen eliminating whey work first-hand. “Everyone I speak to has said they’ve seen this in at least two or three patients,” Baldwin says. If you add up all those unpublished cases, that’s a significant amount, she adds.
Baldwin describes two teenage patients of hers who were failing to respond to isotrentinoin after a few months on the medication. “It’s kind of unheard of for isotrentinoin to not work over three months,” she notes. The powerful anti-acne medication is usually a last resort for those who have tried every other option to no avail. In each case, when she asked the patient to stop using whey protein, their skin began to clear in about one month.
Of course, everyone is different, and foods that trigger acne in one person might not in another. “There are a ton of people consuming milk and whey protein and hideous junk food diets who don’t have acne—and vice versa,” Baldwin says.
If you can’t figure out what’s causing your breakouts and you eat whey protein, cut it out of your diet and see if you notice a difference. Baldwin suggests giving it two months to be able to notice a clear difference (or not). If you find that whey is sabotaging your skin? There are plenty of other protein alternatives out there. If you like having a convenient option, opt for plant-based powders and bars from brands like Vega (which offers both powders and snack bars) and Plnt by Vitamin Shoppe—both use plant proteins like pea and hempseed instead.
MIllie- My recommendation is Spirulina powder.