Does whey protein cause acne?

Whey protein: every weightlifter knows it’s the cheapest and easiest form of protein to help you recover from workouts, build muscle, and get stronger. But is it the reason that so many bodybuilders struggle with terrible acne? Does whey protein cause acne?

Unfortunately, yes – that’s part of the answer.

As you probably know by now, milk – and in particular milk hormones – is one of the biggest culprits for people trying to fight their acne. That’s not the whole story, though – lifting weights sets off a whole cascade of hormonal processes in your body to help repair muscle damage, and to stimulate new muscle growth.

It turns out those same hormones are responsible for increasing the production of oils in your skin, which can increase (you guessed it!) acne outbreaks. When you factor in all the gallons of milk that hard-gainers have used to meet their dietary goals, it’s clear why acne is such a problem for weight lifters.

So what’s an aspiring strongman supposed to do? What’s the point of putting all that effort into looking better if it just gives you terrible breakouts?

Well, for starters, switch up your protein supplements – Men’s Health recommends egg whites or hemp protein. Lay off the milk while you’re at it, and make sure you clean your face well after a workout to help rinse some of the extra oils off your skin.

Why Does Whey Protein Cause Acne?


One of the many memories from our teenage years that we would like to forget immediately is the breakout of acne. Puberty was a time when the body changed constantly, yet the acne did not clear up for many years afterwards. There were some lucky people that did not have to face it beyond a few spots on the face every now and then.


That said, it is normal to have acne till your hormones normalize and they generally do not carry on beyond the age of 19 or 20. There are some people that have acne related health problems and get it for many years. However, if your acne seems to erupt out of nowhere, then it may be a lifestyle problem. Some of the best ways to get rid it is to understand why acne takes place in the first place.


The Reasons Behind Acne Breakouts


In our teenaged years, the change in our hormones causes acne to start flaring up. That fact is well known. However, there are other factors that can precipitate a breakout:


For women, the highs and lows in their hormonal levels during their periods or when on the pill can cause the skin to react and get pimples.

Constantly touching the skin and picking at the spots and scars causes them to never heal. It creates an accumulation of sebum and oil under the skin and further acne happens.

Having dirty linen and sleeping on it can affect the skin. Ideally, all sheets and covers should be changed every few days for health reasons.

Tight clothes often cause acne on the body, as the clothes cause a lot of sweating and chafing due to the friction. Sweat tends to block the pores on the skin, which then become infected.

There are many medications that tend to make the acne worse and show up more frequently.

Finally, there is the excess of certain kinds of protein that affect the skin and make acne happen far more frequently.


It may sound odd, but there are different types of protein that can affect the body and cause a breakout.


Why Does Protein Cause Acne?


First things first, not every single type of protein affects the skin and causes pimples to start popping up. If that were the case, we would have to simply stop eating most kinds of food because protein is an important part of our nutrition requirements. There is a particular type of protein that enters into the body and creates a cascade of reactions that lead to changes in the nature of the skin.


This protein happens to be whey protein. If you have ever seen milk being churned to make cheese or butter, you’ll notice that there is a liquid left over after the first draining process. It is quite yellow in color, in an almost neon shade. This is known as whey. It is one of the two protein parts of the milk we drink. The second kind is casein, but it does not affect the skin like whey does.


Whey is found in most dairy products. However, that does not mean that dairy should be avoided at any cost. Most forms are actually good for the body, and help in the building of muscles. The reason that the milk whey reacts this way is because of IGF-1 hormone added to it. IGF-1 is better known as Insulin-like Growth Factor 1, which is usually added to the diets of cows that have just been born. It allows them to grow normally and develop faster in farms.


IGF-1 is found in humans as well. The milk we drink during our infancy contains a certain amount of it. It is introduced in controlled amount and there is rarely a chance of excess. In cows, it is added in large quantities, otherwise the calves grow up stunted and weak. This is a sad truth, as the cows are grown in cramped quarters that are meant to churn out milk and meat as soon as possible. The same milk and meat becomes a part of our diet, which has us ingesting far more IGF-1 than we have ever needed.


This is also found in a number of steroids and protein powders that are used by bodybuilders to gain muscle as quick as possible. Often enough, the dose becomes far too high and the body reacts to it. The inclusion of rising levels of a particular hormone tend to change the way our hormones function. The excess causes the following reactions:


The skin begins to get greasy and the pores secrete more oil than usual. These get caught underneath the pores and start to accumulate dust and sebum, which becomes a pimple.


The cells of our skin also begin increasing their production due to the excess protein. The constant cycle of shedding makes the dead skin cells get trapped in the oil, dust and sebum.


The IGF-1 also contributes to bunching the dead skin together, making it irritate the open pores and create conditions ripe for acne all over the body.


In short, weeks later there is a breakout of acne which seems to repeat over and over again. Till the whey and IGF-1 is not removed from the diet, there is no chance of recovering.


What Kinds Of Protein Should Be Avoided?


The only kind of protein that should be avoided is artificially enhanced protein. This is the kind that is found in foods that have “added protein” or the “goodness of protein” or offer the day’s worth of protein nutrition with one spoonful of product.


Are There Ways To Keep Protein Shakes from Causing Acne?


One of the first ways to reduce the breakout is to avoid any kind of processed whey products. A lot of them are found in the form of protein powders, ready made protein shakes, steroids, protein bars and whey bars. Any product that is not naturally processed from whole milk should be given a pass.


Natural protein on the other hand, is welcome in the diet. Include fresh leafy vegetables, greens, salads, lentils, soy, cottage cheese and wholesome dairy products. These will keep the skin healthy and prevent the constant production of oil and grease as well.


Stay smart and make sure your body gets the correct products. This will keep acne at bay and make for a healthy body for years to come.

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