You’ve been working out hard and taking your protein shake after each workout. You’re starting to see results.
But also to your dismay, a change you didn’t count on. Acne!!
Or maybe your acne just got way worse. All the changes you’ve made to your diet, exercise, and sleep are beneficial, right?
It might be your protein powder…
I’ve compiled a list of the best proteins powder for acne-prone skin. While you can take any type of protein powder, I recommend going with a purely plant-based one.
We’ll explore what the causes of acne are and the possibly guilty ingredients in your protein powder. This way you can combat your acne effectively while still getting great results in the gym.
Things to Look Out For
For acne-prone skin, I would pick protein powders based on the following criteria. You don’t need to follow absolutely all of them. Everyone has a different trigger.
This list covers the most common culprits:
Choose Plant-Based Proteins Over Whey Protein
Whey protein causes acne in some people. This is because it stimulates the production of growth factors, particularly insulin-like growth factor or IGF-1.
Excessive IGF-1 levels have been linked to acne.
One of IGF-1’s jobs is skin cell growth. Acne is essentially dead skin or bacteria clogging up pores that result in inflammation. So you can imagine the impact too much IGF-1 has.
Whey, along with casein, is a cow’s milk protein. These proteins cause the calves to grow because of their effect on growth factors.
If it does that to baby cows, you can expect that some humans may find it problematic. Great for boosting muscle growth, not so good for the skin.
So how if your wondering to prevent acne from whey protein?
The answer…best avoid whey protein and whey protein isolate all together.
Avoid milk-based protein powders
As noted above, whey isn’t the only protein powder derived from milk. Casein is also problematic for many people.
Casein is also harder for many people to digest. If you have digestive troubles in general or find that either whey or casein protein causes it, this your acne trigger.
Don’t Add Milk to The Shaker
Milk also contains IGF-1 rather than just stimulating an increase.
If you have a sensitivity to milk or are lactose intolerant, it can also lead to acne. Lactose, the sugar in milk, also raises blood sugar levels.
Always Choose Low Sugar
Sudden spikes in blood sugar levels and the subsequent release of insulin, is an acne trigger. Many protein shakes are packed with sugar to make them taste better.
Anything up to 5g of sugar per 100g of protein powder is considered a low sugar content. Selecting a sugar-free option would be even better than a low sugar option.
Avoid Any Artificial Sweeteners
Unfortunately, artificial sweeteners are not a healthy alternative sugar. Studies show that they do actually cause a rise in blood sugar levels anyway.
Regular consumption of artificial sweeteners also changes our gut bacteria. More research is needed to confirm it, but these changes may result in insulin resistance.
Artificial sweeteners to look out for include:
- Aspartame (Equal)
- Sucralose (Splenda)
- Saccharin (Sweet N Low)
- Acesulfame potassium
Stevia is a better alternative. But it can confuse the body and brain due to the sweetness but with no subsequent rise in blood sugar levels.
Monk fruit extract is not as well studied and no one has reported side effects. But because it contains no calories it can cause the same effects as stevia.
You will need to see how your body reacts. For some, this results in acne.
If you really need some sweetness, add fruit.
You can also try sugar alcohols such as xylitol or erythritol.
Xylitol is low GI meaning it doesn’t spike your blood sugar very high. It has a GI of 36 as opposed to sugar, depending on the type, has a GI of over 60.
Erythritol has a GI of less than 10. So do mannitol and sorbitol which are also sugar alcohols.
Bear in mind, however, that not everyone tolerates them well. Xylitol and erythritol are easier on the digestive system than the others.
In the case of sugar alcohols, less is more if you want to avoid gas and bloating.
If You Can, Opt For Vegan Protein Powders
If whey protein causes acne, does vegan protein powder cause acne too?
The likely hood that vegan protein powders cause acne is a lot less than whey protein.
Vegan protein powders are a much better alternative for most people prone to acne. There is no growth hormone. But you want to go for a low sugar or sugar-free option.
Worried about the quality or effectiveness of vegan protein? It’s a common misconception that only meat, dairy, and eggs contain protein.
Pea protein is one of the easiest types of protein powder to digest. It’s often combined with rice protein to provide a full amino acid profile. Proteins are constructed from amino acids.
Other popular choices are hemp seed protein, chia seed protein, pumpkin seed protein, and soy protein.
Choose Soy-Free Options
Having said that, soy might be the exception for some people. The biggest issue may be allergies or sensitivities to soy. Sometimes acne is a symptom of a food sensitivity.
Interestingly, in terms of hormonal acne, soy may help. Excess androgen levels are a common cause of acne.
Androgens are testosterone, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S).
Soy has antiandrogen properties that take care of DHT, in particular, which is the more problematic androgen.
Guys, you don’t need to worry about soy consumption completely lowering your testosterone levels excessively. Especially if you are exercising.
Check the Vitamin B12 Content
Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient needed for good brain function and red blood cell formation. It’s a water-soluble nutrient. This means that the body excretes the excess B12 in the urine.
But high levels in supplements may cause acne. It’s thought to be because of how it affects the bacteria in the skin.
B12 is naturally found in animal products such as meat, eggs, dairy, and fish. If you already consume these daily, skip B12 in your protein shake.
This also goes for vegans or anyone else taking a vitamin B12 supplement.
Extra Ingredients in Protein Shakes can Help With Acne….Possibly?
Whether you prefer a protein shake or a meal replacement, there are a few ingredients that may be beneficial for acne sufferers.
Probiotics are good bacterial strains that populate the gut. They have been linked with digestive health, mental health, and skin health.
Using a shake that contains probiotics may reduce acne. Eating foods high in prebiotics is also helpful in terms of feeding the good bacteria.
Fiber-rich foods such as whole grains, fruit, and vegetables are good sources of prebiotics.
Enzymes help to digest food. You might not have enough if you have digestive issues.
Lactose intolerance is due to a lack of lactase, the enzyme that digests lactose.
Healthy digestion in many cases means healthier skin. Enzymes may also help to heal the skin when not digesting food.
Vitamins and minerals are essential to our health and affect our appearance.
Vitamin A promotes good cell turnover and reduces the effects of the bacteria that causes acne, p.acnes. The upper intake level is 10,000 IU (3000 mcg).
The recommended daily allowance is 900 mcg for men and 700 mcg for women. It’s recommended not to go over this.
Bear in mind that you also consume vitamin A throughout the day. So steer clear of supplements or shakes containing more than 5000 IU at most.
Vitamin D also combats negative reactions to p.acnes. Zinc has been shown to reduce oiliness which may reduce acne.
There are three types of omega 3’s. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) found is found in dark green veggies, seeds (flax, hemp and chia) and walnuts.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is found in fatty fish and certain types of marine algae and seaweed.
The ones you want for acne are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and ALA. Making sure you get all of them is beneficial. But EPA and ALA both have anti-inflammatory properties.
Note that both DHA and ALA also convert to EPA. You will just get more from supplementing with actual EPA.
Best Protein Powder for Acne-Prone Skin
Let’s check out a list of acne-safe protein powder options:
KOS Plant Protein Powder (Organic)
Kos is a blend of pea protein, flaxseed protein, quinoa protein, pumpkin seed protein, and chia seed protein.
Flaxseed protein and chia seed protein are full of ALA. When ground, these seeds are much easier to digest. Pumpkin seeds contain minerals such as iron, magnesium, and zinc.
It contains 11 vitamins and minerals, including zinc. Magnesium may also help since it helps with relaxation (stress triggers acne) and improves insulin sensitivity.
The vitamin B12 content is only 1mcg which is unlikely to affect your skin negatively. A range of veggies such as tomato, broccoli, and carrot are included in the blend.
This protein powder provides 20g of protein and 2g of fiber per 39g serving (2 scoops). It’s also low in sugar, containing only 2g per serving.
To aid digestion it contains a blend of enzymes. There are no nasty chemicals or pesticides to trigger your acne.
It comes in two flavors, chocolate and vanilla. It’s sweetened with coconut sugar, monk fruit extract, and stevia.
It’s rated as the best plant-based protein powder as well as very delicious on Healthline, a well-respected source of health and wellness information.
- Blend of five plant proteins
- Provides 20g of protein
- Contains 11 vitamins and minerals, including zinc.
- Low vitamin B12 content
- Only 2g of sugar per serving
- Contains digestive enzymes
- Free from soy, gluten, and dairy
- CCOF and USDA organic certified
- Non-GMO (genetically modified organisms)
- Blends well
- Some people find that stevia triggers their acne
- Some find the chocolate flavor overly sweet
Vega One Organic All-In-One
Vega One All-in-One Shakes are more of a meal replacement, especially if you blend in fruit. The daily values for the nutrients are 50% of your required intake. There are 20 vitamins and minerals.
One scoop (a 46g serving) gives you 100% of your vitamin D requirement, 40% of your vitamin A, and 6% of your zinc requirements for the day.
It provides 20g of protein via a blend of pea protein, hemp protein, sacha inchi protein, and flaxseed protein.
It also contains marine algae which provides 1,5g of omega 3 along with the ALA from the seed protein.
Healthy sources of protein!
Hemp protein is a good source of ALA. It contains none of the compound in marijuana that makes you high, THC.
Sacha inchi is a good source of ALA as well. The omega 3’s in this shake should help to lower inflammation which fuels acne.
The omega 6 content is zero percent. This is great because an ideal ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 should be no bigger than 4:1. Yet it’s much higher in most modern diets.
This leads to inflammation and depletion of omega 3. This is a no-no for not just acne, but our overall health.
There is 7g of fiber, enzymes, and probiotics for improved digestive health. Real fruit and vegetables are added including cranberries, carrot, strawberry, blueberry, and mushroom.
Each serving contains only 1g of sugar. It’s sweetened using stevia. It’s available in chocolate, mint chocolate, berry, french vanilla, mocha, plain unsweetened, and vanilla chai.
- Plant-based protein
- Low vitamin B12 content
- High omega 3 content
- Low sugar content
- Can be used as a meal replacement shake
- Available in multiple flavors
- Contains probiotics, enzymes, and fiber
- High in nutrients that benefit the skin
- USDA organic certified
- Gluten, soy, and dairy-free
- Stevia may trigger acne in some people who are sensitive to it
- The sodium content is higher than ideal for some people at 240 mg
- Some find it overly sweet
One thing about the sodium content. It’s not excessive considering the powder is mixed with liquid. But be careful of how much sodium your chosen liquid contains.
SB Organics Vegan Protein Powder
SB Organics Vegan Protein Powder is a blend of pea protein, flaxseed protein, quinoa trim protein, and pumpkin seed protein. Each serving gives you 21g of protein.
SB Organics claims that there is vitamin A in the shake, but doesn’t list it on the label. They say there is vitamin D but it shows 0 mcg on the label. The same goes for fiber.
Zinc isn’t listed. But the presence of flaxseed and pumpkin seed means that there should be some. This goes for the fiber content as well. It also contains some magnesium.
The vitamin B6 content is 40% of the daily requirement. Unlike B12, vitamin B6 may actually combat acne. Especially in women who struggle with hormonal acne.
It contains enzymes for better digestion. The sugar content is only 2g per serving. It’s sweetened using monk fruit and stevia. Many people say it tastes great even when blending with water only.
It’s available in chocolate and vanilla flavor. A fruit and vegetable blend contributes to the flavor. But the exact fruit and veggies used are not specified.
- Plant-based protein
- Includes an enzyme blend
- Low sugar content
- Contains vitamin B6
- Contains some magnesium
- USDA certified organic
- Gluten and soy-free
- Good texture
- Some found it overly sweet
- A few people found the taste slightly too salty
- Stevia may trigger acne in people who are sensitive to it
- The labeling is different from their claims
Alaya Plant-Based Protein
Alaya Plant-Based Protein is made from a blend of pea, brown rice, and hemp protein. One scoop will give you 22g of protein. It’s also organic.
It contains 9 vitamins and minerals including zinc and magnesium. Their proprietary DigeZyme powder is a blend of enzymes for better digestion.
There is only one gram of sugar per serving. The sweetness is due to monk fruit extract. Alaya plant-based protein is available in chocolate or vanilla flavor.
- Easy to digest
- Includes zinc and magnesium
- Low sugar content
- Contains digestive enzymes
- USDA organic certified
- Free from gluten, soy, and dairy
- The sodium content may be too high for some people at 260 mg
- Not everyone enjoys the flavor, usually due to sweetness
Naked Pea Protein
Naked Pea Protein consists only of pure yellow pea protein powder. If you get acne from flavored shakes with other added ingredients, this one is for you.
There are five vitamins and minerals, all of which are naturally found in peas. The notable one is magnesium.
Using an unflavored powder gives you control over what you add-in. If you know your acne triggers, this is great.
There are absolutely no artificial flavors or ingredients in this protein powder. It naturally contains only 2g of sugar per serving and a whopping 27g of protein.
I believe unflavored plant-based protein powders are as close to an acne-free protein shake that you can get.
- Free from artificial ingredients
- Pure yellow pea protein
- Easy to digest
- Not organic
The recommended acne-safe protein powders on the list are all plant-based.
This is because any dairy-derived protein such as whey or casein is a proven acne trigger for many people.
A whole foods plant-based diet may help to treat acne. It eliminates common hormonal acne triggers like dairy and meat.
I specifically say whole foods plant-based diet. This will cut out processed foods filled with sugar and excess fat.
Each of these protein powders is free from the major triggers. The exception may be the stevia and monk fruit extract.
If you are really worried, go for the unflavored protein powder.
Most of them contain enzymes and/or probiotics that may help with acne.
Those with flaxseed protein, hemp, and chia seed will provide some ALA. Vega One provides vegan DHA and EPA. These omega 3’s fight inflammation.
Choosing a protein powder that doesn’t cause acne can be tough. It will come down to finding what works for you.
But in the end, I would recommend Vega One in terms of helpful nutrient content. For flavor and texture, Kos wins.
If you struggle at all with added ingredients. Choose Naked Pea Protein.
This may be the absolute best protein powder for acne-prone skin.
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