Whey Protein Side Effects – Does Whey Protein Cause Acne and How to Get Around It


I get asked a lot about whey protein like yesterday by a colleague who will be undergoing their own “biggest looser challenge”. This dude we will call Will asked me if whether or not whey protein causes acne. According to Will, he is prone to acne (or pimples) and he said he tried  whey before and he saw the symptoms got worse.

I plainly told him that YES whey protein can come with some unpleasing side effects (including some GI issues) and that includes the possibility of developing acne. As good as it is and as helpful it may be for muscle gain and weight loss (in form of fat) – some people can develop some adverse reactions towards whey protein supplementation and some people may even have severe allergic reactions even if they are taking ultra-filtered whey protein isolates.

As we all know – whey protein supplements are very concentrated source of protein and other nutrients. That means what you are supposed to get with 2 or 3 meals you will get with only 1 serving of whey and that alone would be enough to produce some adverse reactions to many. The body may just have a hard time (at least for the first few days supplementing with whey) and that can lead to some side effects and toxin accumulation which can lead to acne outbursts.

Furthermore whey increases anabolic hormone production which in turn stimulates fat or lipid production in the sebaceous glands – the oil producing glands in your skin. This can cause some acne problems. That is why one of the adverse reactions of doping is also acne. Likewise the higher your natural testosterone levels the higher your chances are to developing acne. I think that is one of the reasons why I have always had these pimples in my body even if I tend to bathe almost 3 times a day.

There is also this study conducted by a renowned dermatologist, Thierry Simonart:

Accumulative evidence supports the role of nutritional factors in acne. I report here 5 healthy male adult patients developing acne after the consumption of whey protein, a favorite supplement of those engaged in bodybuilding. These observations are in line with biochemical and epidemiological data supporting the effects of milk and dairy products as enhancers of insulin/insulin-like growth factor 1 signaling and acne aggravation. Further prospective studies are required to determine the possible role of dietary supplements in the fitness and bodybuilding environment.

Acne and whey protein supplementation among bodybuilders. Simonart T. Dermatology. 2012;225(3):256-8. doi: 10.1159/000345102. Epub 2012 Dec 13. PMID: 23257731 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Insulin-like growth factor 1 is the “anabolic” hormone that we were talking about above which causes the increased activity of your sebaceous glands. Check this wiki page for the complete definition of IGF 1.

sebaceous gland with acne

That shows that indeed – whey protein may cause or aggravate “acne”. In the end I had to ask Will in the scale of 1-10; how much discomfort does the whey-aggravated acne cause and how much does it hinder his life? He answered “not too much”. I asked if it is tolerable, he said “off course!”

Get used to some discomforts:

No matter how you get around it the bodybuilding lifestyle in itself alone may offer several discomforts not only acne. I myself experience aggravated acne outbursts after whey or egg supplementation. I don’t have these problems at times when I don’t lift or supplement with eggs or whey. However, on my end I even hardly recognize them if unless a family member points it out. I really don’t mind these little inconveniences – I am too distracted with my muscle gains to even notice.

Unless one experiences life threatening reactions or ones that are very uncomfortable (around 7 -10 on the scale) I really don’t think you must care about this “acne” issue. In the end you must prioritize:

Crystal clear skin or whey?

A blemish-free skin is just something that you need to risk when you supplement with whey and I will not sugarcoat that fact. Although for me it’s no big deal for some of you it might be.

Whey is not the only thing you can blame:

Despite the fact that indeed whey protein supplementation may indeed cause acne outbursts for some people; it is also a fact that with today’s “western” diet high in calories, simple sugars, chemicals and preservatives – we are all at risk for acne and some other “real” health problems (don’t we already have them?) with or without whey protein.

Just to state a fact: teens in the western countries suffer from more acne than teens on other countries. Besides pollution, diet is also a big part of this “acne-vasion”.

So how do you minimize Acne when supplementing with whey?

There are a lot of things you can do to minimize acne outbursts during when protein supplementation. Needless to say that you must take these precautions even if you are not yet experiencing symptoms of acne since when it comes to skin problems prevention is always more effective than finding a cure.

Vegetables and vegetable juice:  take most of your carbs in form of vegetables and vegetable juice (eliminate bread). Vegetable juice contains all these phytochemicals that help rid the body of all those toxins and free radicals.

Juicing veggies is the most effective way to take your veggies raw and provide you with all the nutrients and natural antioxidants that you need. Check out this article if you don’t have any idea about juicing.

Guava Soap – Buy some guava soap from your favorite herbal store, I can testify that it helped me a lot big time not only with acne but with BOILS!

Turmeric – Turmeric has an anti-inflammatory property. You can take one in capsule everyday but you must take it with whole pepper or piperine (pepper extract) since that is the only way you will be able to absorb most of its active ingredient: curcumin.

Take frequent baths – if you hate water – then you better learn to love it! Frequent or at least regular baths taken everyday especially after being exposed to outside pollution will reduce your chances to developing acne by at least 50%.

Hydration – still, hydration is of utmost importance. Remember that water is your major detoxifying agent and without it you can just get used to the nasty chemicals and acne-causing toxins that circulate within your body.

Hand washing- making sure that your hands are always squeaky clean is the best way to avoid infections and contaminations. Always have a small bottle of alcohol with you whenever you’re on the road. I am not saying that you must get OC though.

Desensitize – After a while, some adverse reactions may go away on their own because the body will become “desensitized” to the stimulus. Desensitized is just a fancy word for “getting used to”. This applies mostly to allergic reactions. When one’s allergic to  fish for example – giving him incrementing amounts of fish everyday will in time remove his allergic reaction to fish. Same with whey – except for ones who develop life-threatening symptoms like tightening of the airways. In that case you may need to seek assistance with your physician.

I am sure there’s more so if you have anything else in mind please share them below in the comments section. Eat your eggs, people!

A-Lifter- Don't forget to leave your comment/feedback below.  If this article was helpful, I am sure our book Real Talk Muscle will help you even more in your quest for muscle gain. Check it out you can read the first few chapters as well.
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8 thoughts on “Whey Protein Side Effects – Does Whey Protein Cause Acne and How to Get Around It

  1. Here’s an alternative approach you may want to try. Stop using soap and shampoo when you bathe. (Qualify that – only use soap to wash your hands after dumping a load, before eating or preparing food, etc.) Because soap and the chemicals in it deep clean the skin and strip it of all natural oils, the body over compensates and produces more oil resulting in oily skin and possible acne. Just take a warm shower and rub your body with your hands under the spray, including private parts. Too frequent use of a washcloth, loofah sponge, etc. will also strip the skin oil.

    Upon first trying this, the skin (especially the scalp and hair – hair should be brushed anyway) will be very oily. It takes about 2 weeks for the body to normalize. I’ve been soap free for two years (except for washing hands as noted above) and I my skin is very healthy. I used to have problems with a very oily face and scalp and very dry, cracked knuckles. All these problems are gone.

    Also, for hand soap, I would recommend bar soap. The liquid, anti-bacterial soaps are very strong and not good for the skin.

    1. indeed, the increased oil production is also a “negative response” to fat emmulsifiers like soap.
      But I do admit that those two weeks will be like hell for me, but I promise I will give that a try and I will make a video update when I’m done.
      Thanks for that, bro.

        1. I see. The problem with me is that I always had these “bAcNEs” and others around my arms. But my face is piple free and has a little dry state. I tend to ignore these problems but since I finally plan on competing I guess I should start taking action on the “derma” part of my physique.

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