Ask any fitness fanatic or wellness enthusiast if they incorporate protein powder into their diet, and it's likely they'll tell you that they add it to their post-workout smoothie or sprinkle it into their overnight oats, as often as they would add almond milk to their coffee or honey to their tea. We're not any different. After all, the purpose of these powders is to provide the body with the building blocks it needs to synthesize and repair muscle tissue, which by turn, makes us feel stronger and healthier.
According to Women's Health, however, fitness fanatics and wellness enthusiasts who suffer from regular breakouts might want to re-think their regular protein powder habit. That's right—dermatologist Mona Gohara, M.D, says there's a specific type of protein powder that can be associated with clogged pores and subsequent acne breakouts. Keep scrolling to see which type of protein powder she's referring to.
The protein powder culprit is none other than whey protein, which is one of the most pervasive types. "Dr. Gohara and her colleagues are anecdotally seeing an uptick in acne among women who drink shades and smoothies spiked with whey protein," says Women's Health beauty director Maura Lynch. "The thinking is that whey upregulates our androgenic hormones, such as testosterone, more than men's, spurring excess sebum production. It also causes an increase in the amount of insulin growth factor our bodies produce, triggering more oil production."
There's some science to back this up. Although the sample sizes of acne and whey protein studies are small, to say the least, they're still worth mentioning. One study found the use of whey protein precipitated acne flare-ups in teenage athletes. Another study found a correlation between whey protein and the formation of acne in young adults.
Although there's no clear consensus as to why it's whey protein in particular and not other types that contribute to acne, it might be due to the fact that it's derived from milk. Dairy is linked to inflammation and acne flare-ups, so the same science might apply to whey protein. Take it from Renée Rouleau, esthetician to the stars: "The hypothesis is that since the majority of milk in the U.S. comes from pregnant cows (and some cows are given growth hormones), the hormone levels in milk may play a role in excess sebum production, which promotes acne."
Since it's only whey protein that's thought to cause acne, other kinds are still viable options for people who might be more susceptible to blemishes. Women's Health recommends opting for a plant-based protein made from peas. This type of powder provides all the protein you might currently receive from a whey variety, without any of the pore-clogging possibilities.
Shop our favorite plant-based protein powders below.
The best part about opting for plant-based proteins is that most are vegan-friendly, like this one, which is one of our favorites. It contains no whey protein; instead, it's made up of pea and sprouted brown rice protein.
Sakara is a brand that's beloved by team Byrdie for its nutritious meal programs and dietary supplements. This powder has 12 grams of protein per packet, along with good-for-skin superfoods like spirulina, chlorella, and wheatgrass. We can't forget the fact that's it's 100% vegan-friendly.
This plant-based protein (which is made from peas and pumpkin seeds) is all thanks to the Tone It Up girls, Katrina Scott and Karena Dawn. It offers 15 grams of protein per serving. Plus, it's non-GMO and gluten-free. Add it to smoothies, plain water, or baked goods for a daily boost of muscle-building protein.
Next, check out our 16 best skincare tips for your worst vices, from smoking to junk food.
Silverberg NB. Whey protein precipitating moderate to severe acne flares in 5 teenaged athletes. Cutis. 2012;90(2):70‐72.
Pontes Tde C, Fernandes Filho GM, Trindade Ade S, Sobral Filho JF. Incidence of acne vulgaris in young adult users of protein-calorie supplements in the city of João Pessoa--PB. An Bras Dermatol. 2013;88(6):907‐912. doi:10.1590/abd1806-4841.20132024
Juhl CR, Bergholdt HKM, Miller IM, Jemec GBE, Kanters JK, Ellervik C. Dairy intake and acne vulgaris: a systematic review and meta-analysis of 78,529 children, adolescents, and young adults. Nutrients. 2018;10(8):1049. doi:10.3390/nu10081049