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Do Protein Shakes Cause Acne? 

Joe Fazer describes himself as ‘pretty typical gym lad’, who enjoys the training, chicken & rice and obviously daily protein shakes.  

But Joe has been suffering from bad acne breakouts, and as he tries to figure out the cause, he wonders if protein shakes have any affect?  

A quick google search shows that consuming too much whey protein does run the risk of causing acne breakouts.  

But Joe wasn’t satisfied with an answer from the internet – he wanted to put this to test IRL.  


Putting it to the test  

Joe got together five of his friends who are also regular gym goers to put his theory to the test.  

For the next 30 days, they were going to drink 3 protein shakes a day – a total of 90 shakes over the 30 days. This is more protein than the recommended amount, to test if an overconsumption of whey protein would affect his friend’s skin.  

Joe didn’t tell his friends what the experiment was for – all they had to do was drink the shakes for 30 days and report back to Joe.  




Hal, one of the friends participating in the experiment, noticed his skin getting a little bit worse for wear a week in – and a couple of the others noticed a few spots popping up on their skin over the 4 weeks.  

By the end of the 30 days, 3 out of the 5 boys said they noticed a couple more spots within the 30 days and 2 said they noticed nothing.  

Joe showed photos of Ben throughout the 30 days. Ben said he noticed a couple more spots but as Joe flicks through his daily pictures, he commented that it was ‘very, very minute.’  


Joe’s final verdict  

Do protein shakes cause acne?  

‘Yeah, they may cause the odd little pimple here and there but ultimately these big acne breakouts that you may be getting are not down to protein shakes. They will be some other factor that you need to sort. ‘  

‘My advice? Keep drinking this stuff.’ 


My final verdict

As of now, we don’t have any real strong evidence to suggest that whey protein causes acne.

Most of the data we have is observational and or based on case reports (1) and these are unreliable to draw any real conclusions from as there are no “control” groups to compare subjects to nor is there any real way for us to determine the potential cause of the acne flare up.

The link between dairy intake and acne is more robust but questions remain. We still rely on observational data (albeit more of it this time) and, in the largest review on the subject at this time, the data collected was achieved by dietary recall (which is notoriously inaccurate)(2).

In addition to that, not all dairy products have been found to contribute to acne flare ups. In the aforementioned review the researchers found that both yoghurt and cheese were not significantly associated with acne development.

It’s important to note that there may be those who are more genetically predisposed to acne flare ups when they eat certain foods (3).

Dairy foods have been highlighted as a potential risk factor but so have higher sugar foods as well as greasy foods… and that’s just on the food side!

Other potential risk factors include; family history, overweight, obesity, oily or mixed skin, irregular menstrual cycles, smoking, the improper use of cosmetics, the long-term use of electronics, the poor quality of sleep, stress, high temperature, sun exposure, air pollution and more.

So, before you go straight to blame the protein powder it would be good to tick of all these other possible elements first – typically acne breakouts occur in the presence of a constellation of issues; very rarely can you isolate the blame to just one thing.


Take Home Message  

Whey protein works for a lot of people – but it may have negative side effects for those with lactose intolerance, allergens or sensitivities.  

There’s plenty of protein products to choose from if whey doesn’t work for your body.  

If you want to learn more about swapping to vegan protein sources, read Scott’s story here:  


  1. Zamil DH, Perez-Sanchez A, Katta R. Acne related to dietary supplements. Dermatol Online J. 2020 Aug 15;26(8):13030/qt9rp7t2p2. PMID: 32941710.
  2. Aghasi M, Golzarand M, Shab-Bidar S, Aminianfar A, Omidian M, Taheri F. Dairy intake and acne development: A meta-analysis of observational studies. Clin Nutr. 2019 Jun;38(3):1067-1075. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2018.04.015. Epub 2018 May 8. PMID: 29778512.
  3. Yang J, Yang H, Xu A, He L. A Review of Advancement on Influencing Factors of Acne: An Emphasis on Environment Characteristics. Front Public Health. 2020 Sep 17;8:450. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2020.00450. PMID: 33042936; PMCID: PMC7527424.

Jamie Wright

Jamie Wright

Writer and expert

Jamie Wright holds an MSc Degree in Human Nutrition and a BSc (Hons) in Sports and Exercise Science, and now works with multiple organisations as well as running his own private nutritionist coaching services company, Balance, along with his team of qualified experts, to help individuals with their nutritional goals. He is accredited with the Association for Nutrition and has helped hundreds of clients; from those with eating disorders to internationally competing athletes. Jamie supports his clients with evidence-based, holistic nutrition programming to reach their health and fitness goals. In addition to running his practice, Jamie regularly contributes to the field of nutrition presenting and writing on its many facets. He has had his research presented at the UK Obesity Congress as well as overseas conferences and has authored several e-books whilst contributing to others (including charitable sporting organisations). His research has centred around weight management as well as sports / exercise performance and supplementation. A massive sport nut, avid gym goer and lover of all things dog related, Jamie’s goal in sharing the experience and knowledge he has gained academically and professionally is to provide a source of clarity in the vast amount of “misinformation and noise” that exists within the health and fitness industry. You can check his work out further at Balance, @balance_ie or @jamiesdietguide on social media.

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