QWhat protein powders are best for acne prone skin?

Anjali S. Vekaria, MD

Anjali S. Vekaria, MD

Cleaver Medical Group
Cumming, GA

As more evidence develops regarding the role of diet in the pathogenesis of acne, patients increasingly focus on diet changes as a way to supplement our traditional allopathic treatments. Those who are very health conscious often use vitamin supplements and protein powders as a way to help meet their health and nutrition goals. Unfortunately, there is not extensive data regarding the specific effects of these protein supplements on acne and skin. 

Breaking down some common components of protein supplements can help us target some potential causes of acne. Dairy based proteins such as whey and casein may have some convincing data as acne triggers. Skim milk, specifically, which contains the highest percentages of whey and casein, has shown some weak evidence of acne association. Amino acids such as leucine in dairy also stimulate Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1), which can increase bioavailability of androgens. In addition, many protein powders have a high glycemic index, which stimulates the IGF-1 pathway and increases sebum production and inflammatory pathways. Finally, potential B12 supplementation in the powders increases the production of porphyrins, which can worsen acne inflammation.

While there is not extensive evidence linking dairy based protein powders with acne, for those patients who consume protein powders in high quantity and who have significant concern, favoring dairy-free, plant-based, and low-carb options would be preferred. 

So which protein powders can we actually recommend in clinic? Those with soy, pea protein, brown rice, hemp protein, pumpkin seeds, and egg white powder base. Brands such as Orgain©, Optimum©, Naked©, and SB Organics© are affordable for most and easily accessible.


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