Everything that we eat both become us (literally the food that we eat is broken down and used for cellular growth and repair), and the types of food that we eat tell our hormones to influence physiological changes in the body. So if we are eating a clean, minimally processed diet full of vegetables and fruits with lean proteins and healthy fats then we are giving our bodies great ‘building blocks’ for every single cell in the body, including skin cells. When we pair this with foods that keep our hormones stable and balanced then it helps keep our bodies functioning optimally, from the inside out.
In my practice and clinical experience there is a huge link between skin health and dairy consumption, although this is still considered controversial and not necessarily widely accepted. From the 1960’s the relationship between diet and acne was dismissed, but recent research shows a clear link between the two, especially when considering highly processed, low-fat forms of dairy. Typically dairy can contribute to an increase in two ways: it can cause inflammation at the gut level, and higher levels of inflammation can increase breakouts, and it can increase the levels of insulin and testosterone that are available to the body, which can trigger breakouts.
No, and this is because the types of food we eat are not just fuel or calories in/calories out but provide information to our body to influence our gut health, inflammatory processes, and hormone secretion. So, a hard to digest plant-based protein powder may raise inflammation and affect our gut health (which can negatively affect skin health), and a whey protein powder may cause both of these effects and trigger an increase in testosterone uptake which can also trigger breakouts and acne.
What we actually see in the clinical studies is that whey protein doesn’t actually increase testosterone levels per se, but what is does do is upregulate the receptors on the surface of all of our cells to be able to ‘absorb’ more testosterone, therefore increasing its effectiveness on our muscle and skin cells (and all other cells of the body). When testosterone is increased (in this case through more of it getting into the cell) this can increase breakouts and acne.
If a person has a healthy gut (low intestinal permeability and a well-balanced, diverse microbiome) then they may not have an extreme reaction to a dairy based protein powder if they consume it very sporadically and do not eat a diet high in other inflammatory foods (such as gluten, sugar, and vegetable/seed oils). If a person has poor gut health and a diet high in processed foods, then they may experience more breakouts from this type of protein powder.
From my point of view as a Functional Nutritionist this is a two-step process from the inside out. Number one is to treat the inflammation that has occurred, and you can do this by increasing your intake of fresh vegetables and low sugar fruit and healthy fats such as avocado and oily fish, and using targeted anti-inflammatory herbs such as turmeric and ginger. Secondly, you need to heal the gut lining where the inflammatory response is stemming from by including foods that have specific healing amino acids in them such as collagen and bone broth and including a probiotic supplement and fermented foods into the diet.
Always check the ingredient label! Never take any label at face value as the front of the product is typically for marketing purposes only. Instead, turn it around and look at the list of ingredients. Avoid if it says it contains dairy, whey, casein, or milk protein, as these are all dairy derivatives.
I recommend a grass-fed beef protein powder to all my clients such as this one from Equip Foods This is a very clean option that won’t spike blood sugar or cause an inflammatory response, and that is easily digested and absorbed by the body and has the added benefit of containing skin boosting collagen too! For my vegan and vegetarian clients, I like a mung bean protein powder such New Chapter’s Complete Organic Plant Protein+