Whey and Acne: Does Whey Protein Cause Acne?

Whey and acne

Could whey protein be making your acne worse?

So you’re taking whey protein for muscle building. Hey, I get it! I’ve been there.

You’re probably breaking out with some acne, too.

And you’re wondering, “Could whey protein be causing my acne?”

And the answer would be, yes! At least, it’s definitely contributing to your acne, and here’s why.

What is whey protein, anyway?

I’ll keep this short. Whey protein is one of the two main proteins in cow’s milk (the other being casein). Whey protein powder is made from whey, a by-product of cheese making. It’s an almost neon-yellowish liquid that’s strained off in the initial draining of most cheeses.

In other words, whey is dairy, and essentially, that’s why it causes acne and must be avoided.

One secret ingredient in whey that causes breakouts

Whey causes acne for several reasons, and one reason (we think) is because whey contains a hormone called IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1). This hormone is meant for baby cows to make them grow big and strong while they’re drinking their mothers’ milk.

Humans also make IGF-1 – you got it in your mother’s milk if you were breastfed, and you get some every time you drink a glass of milk (or a whey protein shake). IGF-1 makes baby cows grow fast, and it also makes us humans build muscle faster, which is one reason why whey is so widely used for muscle building (other than the fact that it makes it easy to down 50 grams of protein at once).

IGF-1 is normally regulated by your body, which has insanely complex systems of checks and balances to make sure your hormones don’t get out of whack (and cause problems like acne). But if you’re straight drinking the stuff, you’re throwing alien IGF-1 into the mix, which screws up your hormones. (And acne is primarily a hormonal disease, despite popular belief to the contrary.)

So there’s a serious problem with getting extra IGF-1 from whey protein.

It tends to cause acne! (Several observational studies on bodybuilders who get acne from whey protein have confirmed this.[1] [2] )

Get rid of acne NOW with these diet and lifestyle changes.

Join 5,000+ readers. Detox your diet and lifestyle and get rid of acne for good, with Clear Skin Forever.

Tell Me More!

How does IGF-1 from whey cause acne?

Here’s the basics of how IGF-1 from whey triggers your skin to create acne:

  • IGF-1 makes your skin produce excess oil
  • IGF-1 tells your skin cells to multiply too fast (so your pores get clogged more often with dead skin cells)
  • IGF-1 glues dead skin cells together inside your pores before they can escape normally (through a complex signaling mechanism), meaning more clogged pores

In addition to these problems, most whey protein powder has actually been pasteurized twice, which denatures the proteins and forms complex protein + sugar cross links that are very difficult for your body to digest. If you’re also eating gluten (which damages your gut lining and allows food particles to pass through), chances are these large alien molecules are crossing into your bloodstream and wreaking small amounts of inflammatory havoc on your skin (i.e., redness and swelling and acne).

Whey spikes your insulin, worsening acne

It’s no secret that dairy products spike your insulin three to six times as much as they should, judging by their low glycemic index.

The problem with spiking your insulin like this is that it tends to worsen acne, in a similar fashion to IGF-1. The two hormones are closely related and interact with each other in ways that we don’t fully understand – but the most important thing to remember is that whey protein (as protein powder, or in milk / dairy products) triggers this insulin-spiking response in your body, which may be an additional mechanism for how whey contributes to acne.[3]

As you can see, while whey protein is very effective at building muscle, it causes acne for a number of reasons, and is better to avoid if you’re going for clear skin.

Whey protein isolate vs. whey protein concentrate

Whey protein concentrate is worse than whey protein isolate, because it contains more of the intact milk hormones that cause acne.

Whey protein isolate is more intensely processed to get rid of as much of the “non-protein” stuff as possible, but don’t take that as a recommendation to go buy whey protein! It still causes acne.

Other acne-causing ingredients in whey protein powders

In addition to the IGF-1 in all whey protein, most off-the-shelf whey protein powders contain loads of artificial flavorings, sugar, artificial colors, artificial sweeteners, and just basically artificial everything. These ingredients can also cause acne, and create an extra toxin load for your body to deal with.

Yes, it’s true: 100% pure whey protein isolate is not as bad for acne as fancy commercial blends containing the above crappy ingredients, but even 100% whey protein isolate still causes acne, in my personal experience.

What about high-quality whey protein?

I’ve tried grass-fed whey from New Zealand, low-temperature processed whey protein isolate and concentrate, and several other 100% whey protein powders and have always noticed a few pimples. And that’s pretty conclusive evidence to me, considering that the rest of my diet is a completely clear-skin diet (which I show you how to do in my book).

Cut out the whey if you want clear skin!

I’m pretty opinionated on this. If you haven’t read my milk and acne article, read it now. Milk is the #1 worst thing for acne, along with all other forms of dairy – skim milk, yogurt, cream cheese, sour cream, yogurt, you name it (aside from grass-fed butter, which I don’t believe contains enough IGF-1 to cause problems, and which contains beneficial and hard-to-find compounds like CLA, omega-3s, and Vitamin K2). Whey protein is derived from cow’s milk, so if you’re eating whey protein and you’ve got acne, try removing it and see if your skin improves. Mine certainly did!

What about soy protein?

Avoid like the plague!

Seriously, soy has strong estrogenic activity in the body, and that’s not something you want to muck around with if you’re dealing with acne. Soy phytoestrogens fit neatly into your body’s own estrogen receptors, but don’t activate them fully, disrupting the complex ebb and flow and feedback loops of your body’s hormonal system.

I strongly advise you to avoid soy protein.

What about beef protein / Carnivor?

Beef protein powder seems like a good idea, but I haven’t had good success with it (read: I got some breakouts).

Carnivor, in particular, has added creatine and BCAAs which I seem to react to (when I’ve taken them individually). These are known to boost DHT and IGF-1 and free T levels, which can be a great thing for packing on muscle, but NOT a great thing if you’re trying to avoid getting acne.

So keep a close watch on your skin if you want to try it. I’d say eating beef would be a much safer way of getting your proteina if you do find that you react to Carnivor or other beef protein.

Alternatives to whey for building muscle (that don’t cause acne)

There are all kinds of other vegan protein powders out there, like hemp protein and pea protein and brown rice protein, but I’m just not a fan. First, they don’t taste very good (chalky, gritty, etc.), and second, I just think getting protein from meat is more complete, more effective, and stimulates your muscle-building hormones in a natural way that doesn’t tend to cause acne.

Eating red meat boosts your testosterone and helps build muscle. It contains heme iron which improves oxygen transport in your body, potentially increasing your maximum force output (and strength). Red meat also contains naturally-occurring creatine, for which aspiring bodybuilders have been paying loads of money for the last several decades. And yes, red meat even contains branched chain amino acids!

Non-red meat like chicken, pork, and fish also supports muscle growth through high-quality, complete proteins, BCAAs, and high mineral content. I’m a huge fan of the Paleo diet, as it’s the only diet I’ve found with two very important characteristics:

  • It cures acne
  • It’s sustainable and nutritionally complete (i.e. long-term healthy, unlike raw food diets, for example)

That’s why I recommend meat as your main source of protein. It’s better for your skin than whey protein, and will support muscle growth as long as you’re eating enough.

Eat this kind of meat whenever possible

Eat grass-fed meat as much as possible.

Avoid factory-farmed meat like the plague. It contains synthetic hormones, heavy metals, PCBs, agricultural pollutants, hormone disruptors (very bad for acne), and low-quality inflammatory fats (omega-6s) which lead to increased inflammation / redness / swelling of acne.

Grass-fed meat contains cancer-protective CLA, anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, and many other awesomely healthy nutrients that factory farmed meat doesn’t.

Which meat is best for muscle building?

Red meat. Grass-fed. No question about it. It has the most creatine, the most heme iron, the most nitric-oxide boosting abilities, and boosts your testosterone the most (and that’s good for the ladies, too, as women also need testosterone to build muscle, and no, it will not make you look like the Hulk! It will just make you lean, strong, and sexy).

This means grass-fed beef, bison, venison, elk, and all other grass-fed (or wild) animals that produce red meat.

Next best is probably wild-caught fish.

The fattier the better, because the omega-3 fats will help shorten your recovery time after working out.

The next best meat is grass-fed pork.

I mean truly 100% grass-fed pork (not “pastured” pork, which usually means pigs raised on pasture, but fed corn and grains!). Check out pastured pork here: http://www.texasgrassfedbeef.com/id78.htm I have yet to try Slanker’s grass-fed pork, but they say their pigs actually produce red meat, not white meat. Whoa! I have eaten pork from heritage pigs in France that were raised in the woods, and while they were fed some grain, their meat was still incredibly dark and red-meat-like, so I can’t wait to try Slanker’s truly, 100% grass-fed, red-meat pork. It’s pretty affordable, too, compared to grass-fed meat in general, so it’d be a great thing to stock your freezer with.

And last are chicken and turkey.

I’m not saying never eat chicken or turkey, as they’re still much healthier than grains, beans, soy, tofu, gluten, milk, whey, and all other Frankenproteins. But they contain the highest amounts of omega-6 fats, and not enough omega-3s to balance them out. It’s just how the birds grow. If you’ve ever seen chicken schmaltz (chicken fat), you can see it’s much jello-like than, say, bacon fat or beef tallow, because it contains lots more omega-6 fat and not as much saturated fat (which, at the risk of throwing one too many curveballs, is actually healthy for you, as the science is now showing).

But what about my post-workout protein shake?

Don’t sweat it. You don’t need it to gain muscle. Just make sure you eat a meal with protein within 1-2 hours after your workout. A pound of grass-fed ground beef is my favorite post-workout meal. If you’re really going for muscle building, eat a few sweet potatoes along with the beef, pork, chicken, or other meat.

Your gains might be a tad slower without your post-workout shake, and your recovery time a tad longer, but the most important thing to remember is that post-workout shakes give you acne, and so if you want clear skin, I’ve found through years of experimentation that it’s best to be okay with a little bit slower gains. If you try to hack your body with whey protein, you risk getting acne. Play it safe!

Take the long view! Would you rather gain 2 pounds of muscle a week and get loads of acne, or gain 1 pound a week and have clear skin?

If you’re skinny and gaining muscle, you could drink a gallon of milk a day (GOMAD) and cram down 4,000 calories, but you will feel like crap the whole time and your skin will break out badly. (I’ve only managed to do HGOMAD, i.e. half a gallon of milk a day, but I still felt crappy, and it was raw milk to boot!)

Here’s a better solution for gaining muscle without the acne

Here’s a better solution: stick to real, whole Paleo foods, including lots of grass-fed meat, and you will still be able to make rock-solid gains (without gaining fat), and your all-around health and energy and mental clarity/focus will improve, too.

Most importantly, your skin will clear up.

Other calorie-bomb foods for mass gain (that won’t make you break out)

Note: Product links following this disclosure are affiliate links, which means we receive compensation if you make purchases using these links. Visit our disclaimer page for more information.

If you’re following a clear-skin-promoting diet (something similar to Paleo, probably), it can be hard to pack in enough calories with just whole foods if you’re not used to it. Staple mass gain foods like bread, oats, peanut butter, and milk (GOMAD) are out the window.

So what’s a guy/gal to do?

Here’s a bunch of ideas.

If you’re into coffee, butter coffee (i.e. Bulletproof coffee) is a great morning calorie bomb. I don’t recommend drinking caffeinated coffee (read my article about that here), but decaf is a pretty safe option.

Find some high-quality decaf – from local roasters that roast lightly, or online from Intelligentsia, Blue Bottle, etc. – and add 2-4 TBSP grass-fed unsalted butter, and maybe 1 TBSP of coconut oil if you like the taste, or MCT oil as tolerated (NOW Foods sells a good ‘n cheap one).

Blend with a hand blender or regular blender, add cinnamon/cardamom/nutmeg if you dig the spiced/chai flavor, and drink up.

4 TBSP is half a stick of butter, and while that seems ridiculous, that’s a good 400 calories right there! (BTW, be a little careful with the butter if you’re sensitive to dairy. It might be problematic due to potential hormone content, so if you’re on the fence, skip the butter coffee.)

Good calorie bomb staples, to replace oats/butter/etc., are these:

  • white rice
  • potatoes
  • sweet potatoes

White rice and white/red/purple potatoes can be pretty high-glycemic, but if you’re lifting a ton, you’ll probably have pretty good insulin sensitivity and it won’t be as much of an issue. You can blunt the insulin response of these foods with a few tricks. For white rice, add some rice vinegar (plain, not flavored). For potatoes, steam them instead of baking them – that will lower the glycemic index significantly.

Coconut oil should be all over your daily menu. If you ever make smoothies, it’s an easy way to pack an additional 117 calories per TBSP. What I’ve been doing lately (since I’m also on a mass gain program) is making a bunch of white rice, mixing 1-2 TBSP of coconut oil in, adding a sploosh of rice vinegar to blunt the insulin spike, and then topping with a 7.5 ounce can of wild-caught salmon (here’s a good bulk Amazon source I like, or here’s an alternate). That’s ~800 calories right there, and ~45g of protein.

Steaming sweet potatoes is a great option – if you can steam a bunch at once, you can mash it, then mix in several TBSP of coconut oil and a bunch of cinnamon (to blunt the insulin spike), then refrigerate it. It’s a great breakfast addition (or for any meal). And it’s a great carotene-rich calorie bomb.

If you make salads, seriously douse them in olive oil and add tons of avocado on top.

Instead of peanut butter, go for almond butter. It is definitely more expensive, but generally a lot easier on your skin. The best almond butter I’ve ever had, and surprisingly one of the cheapest, is Zinke Orchards creamy almond butter. It’s seriously amazing. I’ve eaten half a jar in one sitting (not recommend unless you love gut pain). That’s another great way to get some extra calories, and a lot easier to eat more of than eating handfuls of almonds.

Organic, nixtamalized corn tortillas are also a decent way to pack in some extra calories. While we generally don’t recommend corn on the CSF diet in our book, it’s a decent option if you need novel ways to pack in calories. “Nixtamalized” means treated with lime (calcium oxide), which removes most of the enzyme inhibitors and phytic acid and makes them easier on your gut. They’re about 50 calories per tortilla, so adding ~4 to a meal will give a nice 200-calorie boost.

Also, you could try working some ground lamb into your diet. It’s generally fattier than most ground beef, hovering around 70% lean. Or just look for fattier grass-fed ground beef, like 70-80%. There’s a HUGE caloric difference between them. To illustrate, this is per 100 grams (a bit less than 1/4 pound):

  • 90% lean ground beef => 176 calories (20g protein)
  • 70% lean ground beef => 332 calories (14g protein)

So making a 1/2 pound patty of 70% ground beef (or lamb), and putting it on a salad topped with 1 TBSP olive oil and 1/2 avocado, would net you 750 + 120 + 160 = 1030 calories. That’s a pretty good mass gain meal right there!

When in doubt, just eat more of everything you are eating. Eat more red meat. Eat more canned fish (but not tuna). Eat more fat (coconut oil, olive oil, etc.). Eat more sweet potatoes, white rice, and white/red/yellow/purple potatoes. It’s tempting to try to find powdered substitutes and other “magic bullet” calorie bomb foods, but your body (and skin) will thank you for sticking to real foods as much as possible, and just eating more of them.

Alternative protein powders

If you really need some powdered protein (and I don’t recommend it, as per the above section!), your best option will probably be egg white protein (provided you don’t have an egg allergy). Egg allergy notwithstanding, I can’t think of any way that egg white protein could cause acne. It doesn’t contain IGF-1, it doesn’t contain human-analog hormones, and AFAIK it doesn’t boost your fasting insulin like whey does.

Yes, egg white protein is considerably more expensive than whey. For example, last time I checked, NOW Foods Pure Egg White Protein was around $15/pound on Amazon, and you can usually get Optimum Whey for around $10/pound, or grass-fed whey from a place like Pure Nutrition. That said, if you’re dealing with acne, the extra cost should not stop you from switching to egg white protein!

Note that egg white protein is naturally pretty salty, so you’ll ideally want to blend it into a smoothie with some other flavorful ingredients – something based on banana, almond butter/cashews, spinach, etc. comes to mind.

Also, if you go for egg white protein, avoid the ones with soy lecithin (e.g. MRM). Go instead for something like NOW Foods Pure Egg White Protein or Paleo Protein Pure.

You could also try sprouted brown rice protein, or an equivalent vegan alternative (e.g. Vega). The protein digestibility scores for these proteins are much lower than egg protein, and you’re getting a bunch of fiber in there, too, so overall it’s way more expensive.

You’d be better off just buying and eating real food for protein – pass the meat, please! Canned fish, like salmon or sardines or mackerel (sustainably-harvested, BPA-free can) is a great way to get powerful, packaged doses of protein that will support clear skin rather than work against you (or neutral, in the case of egg white protein).

P.S.: Are you lifting heavy enough to build muscle?

Another important thing to keep in mind is that, to build muscle, you’ve got to lift heavy. Most machines do not allow you to do this properly and safely (contrary to popular belief), and most personal trainers don’t know how to do the most beneficial lifts for muscle growth properly.

The #1 exercise you can do for overall strength and mass development is the squat. The barbell squat, that is. That does not mean 1/2 squats, where you only go down until your thighs are at 45 degrees. That means going at LEAST to parallel with the ground! Make sure your stance is wide, though, because if it isn’t, you risk hurting your knees. Check out Starting Strength – that book is the absolute bible of weightlifting for complete beginners to advanced weightlifters.

There are really only five exercises you need to do to get a complete, whole-body workout that most gym-goers dream of:

  • Squats
  • Bench press
  • Deadlifts
  • Press
  • Power cleans

If you’re not gaining muscle, and you want to, do these five exercises only.

Cut out the machines, cut out the Body Pump, cut out the cardio.

These five free-weight lifts are the most powerful combination for overall basic strength development and muscle gain – they use many muscle groups at the same time, which produces a more effective growth stimulus as well as making you more functionally strong, because in all real-life weightlifting scenarios (e.g. moving to a new house, hauling stuff, lifting boxes), you’re using many muscle groups at the same time (which curls, for example, do not train you how to do!).

Again, if you’re interested in doing these lifts, I’ll refer you to Starting Strength, the best book there is on weightlifting for muscle + strength gain. (And yes, it’s great for women, too – in fact, many of the explanatory photos in Starting Strength use women as models!).

P.P.S.: One more reason to avoid whey

Whey comes from milk. Milk comes from dairy farms. Dairy farms (large industrial ones) tend to separate baby calves from their mothers, and feed them with grass or grains instead. That does not make for happy baby cows!

This is a generalization – some hip dairy farms allow the calves to suckle from their mothers and just take the leftovers, but for the most part, raising cows for milk does not make for happy cow families.

It feels much better to eat grass-fed beef than to eat whey protein or dairy, because most grass-fed beef farmers keep mothers and calves together the whole time, and let the mothers raise their babies on their own milk. I don’t know about you, but I just feel better about that.

Key Takeaways

  • Whey protein contains IGF-1 and other substances that cause acne.
  • Avoid whey protein if you want clear skin (both whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate).
  • Drop the idea of gaining 2lbs per week – focus on slow, steady gains, which will a) reduce acne potential, and b) give your connective tissue more time to build up so you don’t get a bad injury.
  • For gaining muscle, eat whole Paleo foods instead, including lots of grass-fed meat.
  • Eat a meat-based Paleo meal 1-2 hours after your workout to maximize gains (including 1-2 sweet potatoes if you’re a hardgainer).
  • Lift heavy weights (squat, bench press, deadlift, press, power clean) to make sure you’re actually shocking your body into growing muscle (read Starting Strength for how to lift for better gains).
  • Avoiding whey protein is only one part of a holistic diet- and lifestyle-based treatment for acne.
  • You need to fix your diet and lifestyle to really cure the root causes of acne (that’s what our book is all about!).
Sources (click to expand)

  1. Acne and whey protein supplementation among bodybuilders. Dermatology. 2012;225(3):256-8. doi: 10.1159/000345102. Epub 2012 Dec 13. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23257731 ^
  2. Whey protein precipitating moderate to severe acne flares in 5 teenaged athletes. Cutis. 2012 Aug;90(2):70-2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22988649 ^
  3. Evidence for acne-promoting effects of milk and other insulinotropic dairy products. Nestle Nutr Workshop Ser Pediatr Program. 2011;67:131-45. doi: 10.1159/000325580. Epub 2011 Feb 16. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21335995 ^


  1. Kevin says

    I’ve been reading you guys articles for the past few days and it saddens me to say that, while they’re all fantastic articles, it’s terrible news. I’ve recently got back to working out, bought ON Whey protein which I have used in the past with great success in terms of gains, only to find that I started getting rash-like acne all over my face, mostly in my forehead area. Clearing acne is my priority so I’ll stop taking whey but I can’t give up working out, so I need an effective alternative. I know that natural protein from food is the best stuff, and this may be a stupid question, but is Casein protein also a bad choice for skin?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Yes! Casein is also really bad. I hear ya, I gained 25 pounds in 2 months at one point and I was taking like 4 scoops a day of ON Double Rich Chocolate Whey. Amazing stuff! But definitely made me break out like nobody’s biz. The short of it is that whey boosts your insulin levels (not good for acne), and casein boosts your IGF-1 levels (also very not good for acne). I don’t know if there’s a way to quantify which is potentially worse, but they’re both definitely 100% in the “avoid” category for people prone to getting acne. You can try something like egg protein, or Sunwarrior or other vegan protein, if you’re just itching to pop some kind of powder, but IMO it’s really not necessary. I’ve gone through years of wiffle waffling with workout supps only to end up at the repeated conclusions that a) they tend to cause acne, b) they’re expensive (especially the non-acne-triggering ones), and c) they lead to big short-term gains that are NOT sustainable in the long run, b/c you’re probably not wanting to chug protein powder for the rest of your life. Figure out how to increase your protein intake through FOOD, and ramp up to it slowly, and lift super heavy, and THEN you will reach a place that’s sustainable in terms of gains. Remember that 25 pounds I gained in 2 months? It only took me a couple months to lose it all after I stopped popping protein all the time (since I got fed up with the acne). Just not sustainable. Gotta build it up slowly, and create the kind of diet, lifting routine, and lifestyle habits of someone who maintains a large amount of lean mass effortlessly/automatically – otherwise you’re never going to keep it on. Does this help at all?

  2. Shane says

    I discovered the link between acne and dairy recently and have had successes with eliminating it. For a few months I was really clear and feeling good I bought some oh yeah protein bars. These bars made me breakout like crazy on my forehead and temples. I’m positive it was the awful sounding milk protein concentrate that did it .

  3. Mitch says

    My acne is almost 100% gone within weeks of removing dairy and lightly treating with topical antibiotic (clindamycin gel/benzoyl peroxide).
    If I eat pizza, yogurt, ice cream, butter, etc. I will always start having some acne within 1-2 weeks. However, I still consume 1-3 servings of whey -isolate- per day. I just try to buy what looks to be a good quality whey isolate, usually quest or isopure. One of those servings is usually a quest bar. I’m sure any whey protein isolate from a reputable company will be good as well.

    It might not be the same for everyone, but a good whey protein isolate does not seem to affect me negatively, although I am -definitely- sure that dairy causes me to have acne.

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Hey Mitch, that’s awesome that you’ve found exactly what works (and doesn’t work) for you! It’s great that whey isn’t a problem for you. It’s not the same for everyone – Devin actually has tried all kinds of different whey powders, including 100% organic, grass-fed varieties, and they all cause him to break out. Sounds like you’ve got good genes :)

  4. simon says

    I’ve been suffering with spots on my bum for the last few months, am a driving instructor so I put it down to sitting on my arse all day lol, been to docs and they put me on a slow course of antibiotics to clear it up, not working. I’ve been using protein drinks post workout and also on and off protein powder, after reading your article bells are starting to ring. Am 46 of medium size 80kg and visit gym about 3 times a wk, my diet isn’t too bad but just Wanted to build up a bit more muscle, I probably push and pull about 150pds on the machines so am no weakling but guess we always strive for more, definitely stopping the protein stuff from today and hope the bum acne sorts itself, dont have spots anywhere else, will try the more red meat sweet pots eggs way instead I think, any other suggestions/ideas gratefully received. Simon.

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Hey Simon! Glad to hear you’re going to give quitting whey protein a try. Do you just have the spots on your bum, and nowhere else? And are they actually acne? Sometimes people get bumps called follicular keratinosis on the backs of their arms and where their sitting bones are; taking a natural dose of vitamin A in the form of fermented cod liver oil can help that a lot. Also, if you’ve been on an antibiotic, you would definitely benefit from taking a probiotic and eating some live, fermented foods to populate your gut with good bacteria – read more on that in our blog post here! Best wishes to you in this – I hope you see good results soon!

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Hey Kevin, you’re right, you technically can’t get 100% grass fed pork. Pigs do eat grass, but they also eat tons of other things, including a variety of fresh plants, root vegetables, worms, insects, and even small animals, among other things. That’s what you want for your health and theirs – pigs eating their natural diet, not primarily corn and soy. Look for pork from pigs raised on pasture, and fed a minimum of processed feed.

  5. ccna says

    Hi, thanks for the great information!!

    I have a question… If squats and deadlifts increase our testosterone and produce growth hormon (IGF), does acne get worse??

    • Devin Mooers says

      I think generally not, since your body’s production of hormones is a very tightly choreographed ebb/flow and dance of negative feedback loops and control systems. I think the main things associated with weightlifting that tend to cause acne are the supplements – the whey protein, casein, GOMAD, BCAAs, creatine, NO-Xplode, etc. that tend to cause acne, because they bypass these delicate control systems (especially in the case of whey/dairy). Exercising, if anything, should HELP your acne, not make it worse.

  6. Tracy says

    Hi. I have been drinking daily morning smoothies using egg protein but have relied on Quest (whey) protein bars for immediately after workout because I have no other way of getting in protein in the 1-2 hour window. I am 39 and have acne…..now I know why. Do you recommend any other protein bars that don’t contain whey?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Let’s see, Epic Bars and Exo Bars off the top of my head. I’d lean toward Epic Bars since they’re just made from grass-fed meat. Exo Bars are cricket-flour-based, which has good protein content, but they also have a bunch of dates IIRC. You could also try Paleo Protein Bars from Julian Bakery, they look pretty solid (egg white protein based).

      Why not take a blender bottle with egg white protein to your workout, and make your shake right then?

    • Shogen says

      How about CLIF BUILDER’S bars? The ingredients sourced for CLIF BUILDER’S bars do not contain animal byproducts. However, our bakeries cannot guarantee 100% dairy-free because trace amounts of dairy from processing other products may remain on equipment after cleaning.

      • Sonia Carlson says

        Hey Shogen – a good thought, but those aren’t ideal. They don’t contain whey, but they have soy protein instead, which isn’t great. Plus they contain sugar in various forms and vegetable oil, which are both acne triggers.

  7. Timothy Bolos says

    I have a question considering Whey protein. I am taking this natural whey protein, and on the cover it says Hormone-free, no artificial colors, flavors, or sweeteners, naturally flavored drink mix, probiotics for healthy digestion, no rbgh bovine growth hormones, and no banned substances, unlisted ingredients or harmful impurities . Should I still avoid this as it still contains milk and soy?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Timothy, I wouldn’t recommend it for many of the reasons mentioned in the article, if you’re struggling with acne. Even the pure grass-fed stuff can cause acne for some folks (myself included). But I would only say that if you’re already dealing with acne.

  8. Ram says

    So, what is the best alternative as a vegan for whey protein, in the intention of gaining mass. I am doing workouts and badly need a transformation from skinny phase in spite of quantity of food I eat. I am one of those skinny friends everyone have who eats a lot..

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Ram, have you tried Vega or similar vegan protein powder? Or sprouted brown rice protein or something? I don’t have a lot of experience with that kind of thing, unfortunately. Are you tracking your calorie intake?

      • Marie says

        Hi! The info is great!! Thanks!!
        I am following the acne diet suggested, but I´m losing so much weight, I am already really skinny so I don´t want to lose more weight. But I have really strong active acne all over my face.
        So would you recommend to eat:
        1. potatoes
        2. avocado
        3. sweet potatoes
        4. a lot of coconut and olive oil
        5. salmon
        6. almonds?
        7. tuna?
        8. White rice?
        9. natural fresh tortilla made from corn
        10. what about calostrum in a mg amount?

        Thanks so much!!!

        • Sonia Carlson says

          Hey Marie! It sounds like you might need more help that we can offer on our blog. I highly suggest checking out our book, and making good use of the CSF Forum to get all your questions answered in detail! The Food Explorer app (which also comes with the book) is also great for answering questions about specific foods.

    • Toni says

      Vega is a superb product range, however every body has intricately different requirements as we all have varying diets (even 2 vegans would have different daily diets) and varying absorption efficiencies.

  9. rebecca says

    a quick query. You talked about to avoid whey protain, but i read some article, and they said for acne suffers, they suggest them to take lactoferrin suppliment. however, lactoferrin is made from whey. i want to know if you suggest people prone to acne leave along dairy products, can they have lactoferrin for their bacteria killing benefits?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Lactoferrin should be fine – it’s isolated enough that it shouldn’t have any of the problematic hormones and such that dairy does.

  10. Jackthew says

    Love your article as always! One quick question: Do you need to moisturize your skin every time after you’ve washed it with cleanser?

    • Sonia Carlson says

      Glad to hear it :)! It really depends on your skin. We don’t wash with cleansers typically, but when we do (like after using sunscreen or something), we do use a moisturizer. We both use argan oil for this – all you need is 3 – 5 drops for your whole face; it’s totally natural, works well, and doesn’t provoke acne. If your face isn’t dry after you wash, though, no need to moisturize!

  11. Sui says

    Thank you very much for this fully loaded of an information! I will now avoid drinking soy/whey protein and see if my acne will disappear as I don’t usually have acne problems. And because of this post, I remembered it all started when I started jugging those protein drinks.

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Ty! Carnivor seems like pretty potent stuff, so it might have a negative impact on your free androgen / DHT levels, potentially worsening acne (since it’s so much more concentrated/intense than, say, steak/beef), and it also has added creatine and BCAAs which I seem to react to (when I’ve taken them individually). So keep a close watch on your skin if you want to try it. I’d say eating beef would be a much safer way of getting your proteina if you do find that you react to Carnivor.

  12. Alicia says

    I found this extremely helpful, not only did you cover why whey can cause breakouts but what I appreciate the most is that you gave alternatives to eating whey protein. Im excited to try some of the tips given. Also really glad that you added how to lower the glycemic index in the rice and potatoes!!! thanks so much for this.

    • Devin Mooers says

      That’s awesome! I’d definitely had a little acne from Optimum Whey Double Rich Chocolate – just goes to show everyone’s got their own unique triggers and threshold points for developing acne. Or maybe the chocolate has something else in it? I just seem to have problems with all whey, though, even the 100% pure grass-fed stuff.

  13. Dhawan says

    Your article was really impressive. But as all of us are extremely cautious when it comes to skin probkems. I had taken the universal ultra mass to gain mass as I was skinny and ended up with crazy acne . As I’ve gone to the doctors and stuff and I’m back to my normal skin. I want to know if you 100 percent recommend egg white protein and which brand and that it wouldn’t cause acne ? My doctor has given me permission to eat egg whites so I’m guessing it wouldn’t be a problem for me. Please reply asap

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Dhawan, I can’t 100% recommend egg white protein because everyone reacts differently. I, for example, don’t tolerate eggs well (but that’s probably because, a few years ago, I ate 8-egg omelets every day for several months). That said, I’ve only heard good things from people who have tried the egg white protein. I would just find a brand that doesn’t have any soy lecithin or other weird stuff in it, ideally something pretty pure, and mix it with your own cocoa powder, banana, etc. to taste.

  14. Serhat says

    Very beneficial and rare information you are giving here.I have a question about acne formation.Is it related with heavy duty in the liver? I doubt about it because if it is so I will have to cut whey intake. You do not mention about the excessive fatigue of the liver. I have 2 aches now from the second use of whey but I don’t care if it is only about skin oil levels.Thanks.

  15. nomad says

    I cut off dairy products and multicomponent protein powder and face is already better within two weeks, can’t compare..

  16. Alex says

    Hey Devin,

    Thanks for the article, ditching whey protein has helped me out a lot. I know your general position on supplements but I was wondering what you thought about plant protein? I’ve been using the plant fusion unflavored stuff recently and I just want to make sure I’m not potentially undoing some of the progress I’ve made with my skin.

    Thanks so much!

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Alex! In general, I don’t think plant proteins are the greatest protein source if you’re a meat-eater. You get full-spectrum proteins and creatine from meat, and it’s all couched in a whole-food matrix which seems to prevent the acnegenic effects of taking some of these compounds in isolation (like creatine, BCAAs). Plant proteins aren’t as digestible as animal protein, generally speaking. That said, I do often put hemp protein in my morning smoothie and I don’t have a problem with it. I’d prefer that over grain/legume protein, though sprouting definitely make those more digestible / less tough on your GI tract. All that said, Plant Fusion has additional BCAAs, and for that reason, I’d steer well clear of it. Based on my own experience, BCAAs seem to trigger acne, which is unsurprising given the androgenic effects of leucine (if I remember correctly).

      Have you looked at egg white protein?

      • Paul says

        What are your thoughts on supplementing with creatine? Getting enough creatine just from grass fed beef can be a little hard.

        • Devin Mooers says

          Hey Paul, I’d say give it a shot and see how your body reacts. I’ve tried creatine in the past and it seemed to trigger some acne for me (possibly due to DHT increases?), but everyone’s different. Can’t really know until you try it.

          • Paul says

            Thanks for the reply!
            Also, I was wondering if you know if Beta alanine or Citrulline malate are know to cause any problems?

          • Devin Mooers says

            Hey Paul, sorry for the epically long delay in getting back to you. Haven’t done any research on those, sorry! Wish I could be of more help.

  17. Vincent says

    Heyo Devin/Sonya,

    What do you guys think about beef protein vs egg white protein? Is one better than the other in terms of biological value/bioavailability?
    I’m currently on the acne-free diet 100% except for experimenting with whey. If I still get acne I will need to switch protein sources.


    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Vincent! I’ve tried beef protein, but I wouldn’t recommend it due to potential IGF-1-spiking issues. I know, technically it shouldn’t be a problem since it should similar protein/amino profile to eating beef, but my hunch is to avoid it. Not a whole lot of backing for the hunch, I’ll admit, just personal experience, where it seemed to break me out a bit. I’m not cut out for egg white protein personally since I’m sensitive to eggs, but if you’re not, I’d go with the egg protein probably. Not a bad idea to experiment with both if you’re curious, though, like 2-4 weeks of one, then switch to the other, and take notes. Definitely would recommend going off whey altogether if you think there’s a chance it’s giving you acne (since it’s quite likely that it is). Hope this helps!

      • Vincent says

        Will do.
        What do you think about Juice Plus+? A lot of my family members are purchasing it and the company claims insane health benefits. I’m skeptical.

        • Devin Mooers says

          Hey Vincent! My cousin was actually an affiliate for them (maybe still is). I personally don’t really see the point of taking fruit/veggie supplements when you can just eat the dang things. Seems to be more bio-available nutrition when eating those things whole/unprocessed, and in the context of additional fat (to assist with vitamin absorption, for instance). We do a lot of green smoothies and some veggie juicing, and a big salad every day with avocados, beets, etc. – I just think it’s pretty much always better to get this kind of nutrition from the whole foods. I understand Juice+ is made from whole foods, but it’s still not the same – you’re dealing with oxidation / degradation / processing so the nutrient density just can’t be the same. I’m not saying Juice+ is BAD for you, just maybe not the best way to get fruit/veggie nutrition.

          • Vincent says

            Hey Devin,
            just wondering if you got my email about whey protein and other general nutrition questions?

          • Devin Mooers says

            Yep got it, Vincent! Sorry for the delay, will get back to you as soon as I can. Got some big projects in the works – food explorer and members-only forums, so it’s been crunch time here.

Like what you read? Have something to share? Leave a comment below! Your ideas are much appreciated, though we can't answer every individual question. :)

- Devin and Sonia

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Need to get rid of acne ASAP?

Get instant access to our comprehensive guide to getting rid of acne permanently, through intelligent diet and lifestyle changes. Learn how to get clear skin ASAP, by getting a copy of our e-book.

Get our complete solution