Does Whey Protein Cause Acne? Alternatives to Whey Protein

The short answer?

Yes. But it depends.

Which really means that there isn’t a short answer, but in general if you’re susceptible to breaking out from consuming dairy, you’ll want to look for alternatives to whey protein.

The Rundown on Whey

Understanding just what exactly whey is should be enough to offer a clear explanation as to why acne prone individuals should avoid it. Whey is what you get when you curdle and strain milk during the process of making cheese. In essence, it is a by-product that is derived from dairy. And what do we already know about dairy? Well, it’s an evil that plagues those that suffer from acne.

Whey proteins are popular in the fitness world because it is an easy and accessible source of quick protein. You’ll see guys (and girls) in the gym downing it from a shaker bottle like it’s crack. Unfortunately, not everyone has the ability to fight the hormones in dairy products to be able to avoid breaking out after drinking a protein shake post-workout. It’s really a question of whether you want that quick access to protein and break out or have to obtain your proteins from other inefficient protein sources such as meats. You know – real food.

So, what can you do if whey proteins are not an option?

Alternatives to Whey Protein Concentrate

Fortunately, there are options out there for those individuals who find themselves discovering a new zit after drinking whey protein shakes.

Alternative #1: Vegan Proteins

The obvious answer is to turn to vegan proteins. This is the route I personally take as it eliminates the possibility of break outs from my protein shakes entirely. These are protein powders that are derived from plants, such as soy-based proteins and pea-based proteins. No dairy component, no acne inflammations. The problems with vegan proteins – and it’s not so much a problem as it is a noticeable difference to whey-based proteins – are the taste and consistency or texture of your shake. A plant-based protein is going to taste “earthy” or “green”, while your average whey protein is going to have a creamier taste. The reason is obvious – one is derived from plant products, and the other from dairy (duh!). The taste of vegan proteins may scare some people off, but it has never been an issue for me. This will vary depending on the flavour you purchase. I have never had any taste issues with any chocolate flavoured vegan proteins, but of course this will be up for debate depending on your taste preferences.

What I find to be an actual issue with vegan proteins is the texture. I take my protein with straight up, clean, tap water, so your experience may vary here if you like to blend it into a smoothie or mix it with other liquids. However, I have found that vegan proteins just do not mix very well with water! The consistency of the shake becomes almost sand-like. It’s gritty and coarse. It does not go down smoothly like a whey-based protein shake would. While I say this is an “issue”, I really don’t mind it. But if you feel that you will be bothered by this un-mixability of vegan proteins, you may want to turn to the other option below.

Alternative #2: Whey Protein Isolate

If you’ve ever shopped around for a protein powder, you’ll notice that there is a whey protein concentrate and a whey protein isolate. The main difference that we are concerned with between the two is the amount of lactose that each variation contains. To put it simply, whey protein isolate undergoes a further filtration process that reduces the lactose content and creates a more “pure” protein. This is why some would recommend whey protein isolate to acne prone individuals as it contains less lactose.

This is a point that is up for debate, however. Acne and diet is a tricky subject, as it often requires trial and error to figure out what does and doesn’t work for you. There are those foods that are recommended to be avoided altogether (high glycemic foods and dairy, for instance), but at the end of the day it really depends on the individual. This is why the question of whether or not whey protein isolate is better than whey protein concentrate in terms of acne breakouts is up in the air.

Personally, I have had no acne issues with whey protein isolate, which explains why I am including it as an alternative to it’s concentrate counterpart. If you are unsure just how sensitive your skin is to dairy and lactose, I would recommend purchasing a small sample sized packet or a smaller tub of whey protein isolate before committing to it to see how your skin reacts. Chances are that you will be alright, but you’ll want to play it safe with your skin.

What products are available on the market for me?

I want to introduce you to some of the vegan proteins and whey protein isolate products that I have tried and have had good experiences with. Here’s a quick visual of the proteins that will be covered below:

1) Orgain Organic Protein

Protein Type: Vegan Protein, derived from peas, brown rice, and chia.


Stats are per serving.

Calories: 150

Protein: 21g

Fats: 4g

Carbs: 15g


Personal favourite when it comes to plant-based options. Tastes great, but unfortunately does not mix very well (an issue with most vegan protein powders).

Check out the current price of Orgain’s vegan protein powder here.

2) Vega All-In-One

Protein Type: Vegan Protein, derived from peas, hemp, SaviSeed, and flax.


Stats are per serving.

Calories: 170

Protein: 20g

Fats: 5g

Carbs: 13g


Contains more calories and less protein (although only 1g) than Orgain’s offering. Not a bad protein at all, just not my cup of tea. No issues with acne, however. It is dairy free, after all.

Check out the current price of Vega’s plant-based protein powder here.

3) NutraBio 100% Whey Protein Isolate

Protein Type: Whey Protein Isolate


Stats are per serving.

Calories: 110

Protein: 25g

Fats: 0.5g

Carbs: 2g


This whey protein isolate is completely lactose free, which would explain why I have had zero issues with it in terms of acne flare ups. Tastes great, mixes well with water, and is perfect if you’re looking to stay lean.

Check out the current price of NutraBio’s protein powder here.

4) BN Labs Organic Vegan Protein Powder

Protein Type: Vegan Protein, derived from peas, brown rice, and hemp.


Stats are per serving.

Calories: 140

Protein: 28g

Fats: 3g

Carbs: 2g


This is a low carb, low fat, and high protein vegan option. No gripes here, other than the texture (which I was quick to get accustomed to). The chocolate flavour tastes great as well.

Check out the current price of BN Labs vegan protein powder here.

5) Isopure Zero Carb Protein Powder

Protein Type: Whey Protein Isolate


Stats are per serving.

Calories: 100

Protein: 25g

Fats: 0g

Carbs: 0g


Zero fats. Zero carbs. 25g of protein. There isn’t much else to say here. The only reason I do not prefer this whey protein isolate over NutraBio’s is that Isopure’s Dutch Chocolate flavour just isn’t as good as NutraBio’s Chocolate. As always, it’s a matter of preference.

Check out the current price of Isopure’s zero carb, zero fat protein powder here.

The End

Dairy is the arch nemesis of us acne prone folk. It’s so hard to avoid it since it seems like dairy is in everything. Fortunately, we don’t have to be terrorized by dairy when we are choosing our protein powders. We still have options for quick and easy access to protein after a tough gym session. Whether you choose the vegan option or decide to go with whey protein isolate, you can’t go wrong. So, grab your protein shake and get your pump on! Rest assured, you will not experience any break outs with any of the powders above.

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