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Does Whey Protein Cause Acne?

7 mins

Catherine Abel

Interested in incorporating whey protein into your workout regimen? Read on to learn what it is, how to use it, and how it can influence your skin.

Maintaining your health can be tricky when your workout practices benefit certain areas of your body but disrupt others. Protein powder is a prime example of this.

Perhaps the most popular protein powder in the present workout scene is whey protein powder. There are all sorts of claims about the benefits of whey protein, making it an extremely desirable product for anyone looking to build their muscles. Unfortunately, there are also some claims about whey protein irritating your skin.

Today, we here at WOW Skin Science are going to lead the "whey" and tell you everything you need to know about everyone's favorite protein powder, including where it comes from, how to use it, and how it might be influencing your complexion.

Table of Contents:

  • What Is Whey Protein?
  • What Are the Different Types of Whey?
  • How Much Whey Should I Take?
  • When Should I Take Whey?
  • How Are Whey Protein and Acne Related?
  • How Can I Avoid Workout Acne?

What Is Whey Protein?

Whey protein is sometimes referred to as the pinnacle of protein powder for a good reason. It is an extremely popular choice for those who work out to build muscles. However, whey was considered useless not long before the whey craze began.

Milk is made with two major types of protein. The majority is a protein called casein, which does not dissolve well in water, and the remainder is made of whey proteins which dissolve very well. When we make cheese from milk, the casein proteins coagulate together and form the solid cheese. The remaining liquid that drains off is called whey. 

What Is Whey Protein, whey protein and skin issues

For years, it was considered a waste product, and people would pay to have it disposed of. Eventually, it was discovered that whey contains whey proteins, and the product's value completely changed.

Protein is essential for building muscles and for the process called muscle protein synthesis. Protein is made up of amino acids. Of all of them, the amino acid leucine is the most important for sending signals to start the muscle-building process. 

Muscle protein synthesis is when you add more amino acids to your muscle to build and repair them. You can stimulate it with exercise and by eating protein. The more you can increase muscle protein synthesis by eating protein, the more likely you will be to build protein over time.

There are a couple of reasons why whey is such a high-quality protein compared to others.

For example, as already previously stated, whey is very high in the amino acid leucine, which is mostly responsible for stimulating muscle growth. To stimulate muscle growth to the maximum, you need to have a certain minimal level of leucine in your meals. 

body muscles and whey protein

Once you reach this level, your muscle protein synthesis will be in full swing. This is called the leucine threshold. If a food contains a lot of leucine, it helps you to hit the leucine threshold easily, which is why whey comes in handy.

Whey is also a very quickly and easily absorbed protein. This means that the amino acids in whey can get into your bloodstream fast. Whey gets amino acids into your blood faster than almost any other protein, which makes reaching the leucine threshold easier.

Another strength of whey is that it is rich in all the other essential amino acids we need for muscle-building. This is why whey powder is often considered better than others. Whey has leucine, the signal for starting muscle growth, and all the other amino acids needed for making new protein and building your muscles. 

What Are the Different Types of Whey?

There are a few different types of whey for people to choose from. 

Whey concentrate is the simplest form of whey. It is what you get when whey is neutralized and continuously filtered. It is slightly lower in its percentage of protein and higher in the amount of fat and carbs it contains. Those carbs are mostly lactose. Therefore, if you are lactose intolerant, you may want to be careful with whey concentrate or avoid it altogether.

healthy meal, meal for workout

Whey isolate is further processed and purified to remove the fat, carbs, and whey concentrate. It is a little higher in protein percentage, lower in fat and carbs, and lower in calories. People who are lactose intolerant do not typically have any problems with whey isolate because the lactose has been removed. That being said, there is always a chance that there is a little left over.

Whey hydrolysate has been partially broken down or hydrolyzed to make it quicker and easier to absorb, which may improve recovery speed. While this form of whey might not be useful for muscle growth, training multiple times daily can help you recover and perform well in later sessions by helping you get amino acids from your stomach to your muscles faster.

How Much Whey Should I Take?

If your goal is muscle gain, your total daily protein should be at least 1.6G per KG of body weight per day. For a 70kg (or 154lb) person, that is a minimum of 28G of protein at each meal. This is why 30G of protein is usually the standard recommendation. 

The higher the protein quality, the less you will probably need to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. If you are eating lower-quality proteins, you just need to eat more to have the same effect on muscle growth.

When Should I Take Whey?

You can take whey any time with any meal. You can have it as a shake or mixed into your food. However, there are a few timing tricks that you may want to try out.

when should i take whey, whey protein powder shake

Getting some whey protein in after a workout session is a good time since your muscle protein synthesis is already being stimulated by exercise. You can stimulate it even more with added protein. However, you do not need to take it immediately after your session. 

A common misconception is that there is an anabolic window. This is defined as a short period following your workout when you need protein or will not get any benefits at all. In reality, you do not need to have protein straight away. 

Your total daily protein is probably more important. You can benefit from the muscle protein synthesis effect for up to 24 hours after exercising, so stimulating it multiple times a day might be a better idea than packing it all at once.

You might also want to take breaks between muscle protein synthesis sessions when considering the refractory period. The refractory period is the time after starting muscle protein synthesis when you probably cannot start it up again. This period is believed to last about three hours. 

How Are Whey Protein and Acne Related?

Multiple factors contribute to acne, such as your genetics, skin bacteria, and immune system. There is little direct research looking at protein intake and acne. That said, we can use some indirect research to help answer your question.

is whey causing acne, is whey causing skin issues

In your body, sebaceous glands are microscopic organs that produce an oily substance called sebum that normally works to lubricate the skin. In acne, sebum accumulates over a skin pore and converts it into a white head. 

Some key hormones that influence the activity of sebaceous glands are testosterone, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), and insulin-like growth factor (IGF). Testosterone, DHT, and IGF increase sebaceous glands' activity and can therefore make acne worse. 

There is some evidence that milk consumption can increase IGF levels and lead to increased breakouts. Ingesting whey protein powder will increase the IGF-1 in your body. IGF increases the amount of oil and sebum your body releases and cell regeneration so that more dead skin cells are available to clog your pores. Together, these reactions increase the likelihood of your skin becoming infected and irritated.

man drinking milk

Simply put, it is possible but not definite that whey protein can contribute to worsening your acne. Though perhaps an unsatisfying answer, the truth is that it is probably on a case-by-case basis. If you believe that there is a correlation between your consumption of whey and your struggle with acne, there is a chance that you are correct. 

You can test your theory by avoiding dairy and whey-based proteins and trying something else instead. For example, you may want to try soy or plant-based protein. 

Remember that you need a certain amount of protein to stimulate muscle protein synthesis and that the exact amount can vary depending on which type of protein you use. If, after switching to soy or plant-based protein powder, you find that it is the better choice for you and your skin, you may need to up the amount of protein you consume in a day to build your muscles.

How Can I Avoid Workout Acne?

Aside from whey and protein powder, there are other reasons why a person might find themself to be breaking out after working out. Here are some tips for avoiding exercise acne.

If you typically wear makeup, try not to wear it when hitting the gym. When we work out, we sweat. The sweat mixes with the oil on our skin. This sweat and oil combination can also react with some pigments and ingredients in foundations, blushes, powders, and other heavy cosmetics. This can form irritating mildew that agitates the skin barrier and around the pore, leading to acne breakouts. 

How Can I Avoid Workout Acne?

We get that not everyone is comfortable going out without makeup. If this applies to you, maybe compromise and use a tinted moisturizer or sunscreen instead. These products do not typically contain the pigments that lead to breakouts when combined with your sweat. A bonus to using a tinted sunscreen is that, should you exercise outdoors, you now have an additional layer of protection from UV light.

Makeup is not the only thing you need to be wary of wearing when working out. The wrong clothing can, unfortunately, set you up for acne flares related to working out. We encourage you to avoid wearing too tight clothing on your body because it can lead to friction during exercise. 

Friction adds a physical irritation to the skin barrier and the skin around your pores, resulting in acne flare-ups. Acne Mechanica is a form of acne that specifically occurs due to friction. Fabrics that do not breathe easily will trap sweat, oil, sebum, and dirt on the surface of your skin and can encourage breakouts. 

Choosing fabrics that are lightweight and moisture-wicking is important. Moisture-wicking fabric is designed to quickly move your sweat to the outer surface of your clothing and to dry rapidly before your sweat can saturate the material. 

As you have probably gathered by now, sweat can cause many problems for your skin. Sweat in and of itself is not the problem. Perspiration is healthy, normal, and necessary, especially when you exercise. Nevertheless, sweat and other things like tight fabric or makeup often lead to breakouts.

An easy fix to this problem is to keep up your hygiene post-workout. Cleansing your face and body immediately after exercising can ensure that you rid your skin of sweat before it has the opportunity to cause any harm.

For your face, we recommend using WOW Skin Science Apple Cider Vinegar Face Wash. Our clarifying cleanser is enriched with apple cider vinegar, aloe vera, allantoin, glycerin, pro-vitamin B5, vitamin E, and more to absorb impurities and balance your skin. 

apple cider vinegar face wash

A bonus to our product is that it is paired with a hypoallergenic silicone brush that you can use to exfoliate your skin. This hands-free process can help prevent spreading bacteria gathered on your hands during your workout to your face.

Use two to three pumps of foam and massage it into your face using your brush. Do this for one to two minutes, moving the brush in small circular strokes. Rinse the product off thoroughly using cool water and pat your skin dry.

For your body, we suggest WOW Skin Science Apple Cider Vinegar Foaming Body Wash. Our product contains many beneficial nutrients that can help your skin to stay healthy. Its ingredients include apple cider vinegar, shea butter, vitamin E, argan oil, green apple seed, and aloe vera.

apple cider vinegar body wash

The rich lather of the foaming body wash leaves your skin clean, glowing, and supple to the touch. It moisturizes your skin, provides it with the hydration lost during your workout, and can reduce the amount of oxidative stress and free radicals. An additional bonus is that the tangy fruit fragrance emitted by the wash can wake up your senses. 

After soaking in the shower or bath, lather a dollop of body wash over your body. Proceed to rinse the product off thoroughly and pat your skin dry.

There are loads of benefits that whey protein has to offer, but just like any other product, it comes with its own set of risks. If you discover that whey protein is not the right choice for you, the good news is that there are alternatives that can be just as effective.

Exercising is important, and taking care of your skin should not hinder you from working out. By practicing good habits and good hygiene, you should be able to exercise without the fear of breaking out.

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Catherine Abel

Catherine Abel works in the cosmetics industry. She has thousands of happy clients that look up to her for expert guidance on everything beauty-related. Catherine uses her extensive domain experience to guide people in choosing the right products for their skin, hair, and body.

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