Can Meal Replacement Shakes Cause Acne? (How To Prevent It?)

Can Meal Replacement Shakes Cause Acne? (How to Prevent it?)

Last Updated on July, 2024

Noticed that you’ve become a pizza-face?

Maybe it’s because of the meal replacement shakes you’ve recently added to your diet…

Or is it?

If you’ve added either protein shakes, meal replacement shakes or even protein powders to your eating habits recently. You might be looking at some or maybe even a lot of whiteheads and blackheads on your face. 

Yes, these shakes can turn that beauty of a face of yours into a pizza topped monstrosity. 

But wait…

Before you give up on these deliciously healthy shakes, you need to know that certain ingredients are what’s causing this issue. Not everyone one of them is able to mess up your face.

Keep reading to know what ingredients cause this problem and what on earth can you do about it. 

Ingredients in Meal Replacement Shakes That Cause Acne

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The dairy content present in these shakes is suspected by most to be the culprit. 

And that’s true, particularly whey protein that’s present in the dairy products is what’s probably causing all this after all. 

Whey is one of the two proteins found in dairy aside from casein, a milk protein commonly found in milk. Both of these proteins are primary ingredients in most meal replacements, and whey, in particular, is responsible for acne breakouts.

However, it’s important to note that this breakout mainly occurs if you’re sensitive to whey.

Check out our article on the best dairy-free meal replacement shakes & drinks.

How Does Whey Protein Causes Acne?

Whey is known to increase the production of insulin-like growth factor 1, or IGF-1, which is a type of hormone. This insulin boosts the production of sebum (an oily substance produced by the body’s sebaceous glands) which later leads to the growth of acne. (1)

The insulin can also activate the production of androgens, which is another hormone that primarily works by overstimulating oil glands. This leads to acne because the pores on your skin get clogged in the process.

Also, milk protein can even disturb the natural ability of your body to process blood sugar efficiently, leading to inflammation in the body, mainly in the skin cells. This can activate the sebum, which will later lead to acne. 

Some meal shakes may include added sugars. This is also known to increase the IGF-1 levels, leading to an acne breakout. 

Some Common Allergens in Meal Replacement Shakes That Cause Acne

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To put it simply, if an allergen present in the meal shake can cause inflammation and stress, they are most likely to trigger acne. Apart from the allergen, dairy, which we already took a look at earlier, below are some other allergens that can sometimes lead to acne.


Sweetened beverages such as meal replacements can affect both your insulin levels and blood sugar, contributing to inflammation. Especially those that have added sugar. (2)

So we suggest you buy a meal replacement shake without any artificial sweeteners.


Some meal replacements contain soy in them. This, in some instances, affects our body’s natural estrogen receptors. With that, soy can also lead to reduced estrogen levels and increased androgen levels(male hormones), which leads to the impact of the formation of acne by causing our glands to produce more pore-clogging sebum. (3)

We share our best soy-free meal replacement shakes in this guide.

Other Ingredients in a Meal Replacement Shake That Lead to Acne Breakouts

Apart from everything I’ve mentioned above, there’s nothing that causes acne in meal shakes. However, if you’re making your own meal replacement shake, avoid adding skim milk. This is another one of those sources that can put you in trouble. (4)

Skim milk tends to contain additional milk proteins when compared to regular milk. Those are added to enhance its thickness and taste.

Also, skim milk has a vast amount of milk proteins, even more so than the higher fat milk options. 

Alternative Proteins to Look for in Meal Replacement Shakes Instead of Whey Protein

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If you think that whey protein is what’s causing the breakout, you might be better off choosing a meal replacement shake without it. Thankfully, there are a lot of options that you can choose as the protein alternative to whey and here are some of those.

Pea Protein

Most vegan meal replacements come with pea protein because it’s a plant-based protein. It tastes good and has a smoother texture than most other vegan proteins. 

Brown Rice Protein

There are meal replacements with brown rice protein, too, it has a neutral flavor and is allergen-free, so there’s no need to worry about those whiteheads. 

Bone Broth Protein

Bone broth protein has a good amount of health benefits; one is obviously the benefits of bone broth, such as amino acids and collagen. If you’re concerned about the taste, don’t be bone broth protein does not smell or taste anything like actual bone broth. (5)

Egg White Protein

Like whey, egg white protein contains leucine, which helps with muscle growth and muscle building. It can also help with weight loss. (6)

Apart from all these, some other protein sources include hemp protein and collagen protein. These can be less ideal when it comes to texture and flavor.

Ingredients to Look for in Meal Replacement Shakes to Avoid Acne Breakout

We’ve looked at the protein alternatives. Now let’s take a look at the ingredients that are free from causing this breakout.

  • Stevia or Monk fruit extracts
  • Natural colors and flavors 
  • Natural fats like avocado, sunflower, sesame, and flaxseed
  • Non-GMO ingredients

There are a lot of meal replacement shakes in the market that does not contain whey and other important sources that lead to acne. So finding one for yourself won’t be that big of a deal. 

Can I Still Drink Meal Replacement Shakes if I Have an Acne Breakout?

a woman holding a glass of meal replacement shake111

No, you should stop continuing to drink your meal replacement shake if you suspect that you’re about to have an acne breakout.

Stop drinking the shake until your face clears up. That’ll help you see whether the meal replacement you’re drinking is what’s causing the problem. 

Even after you’ve stopped drinking and the face does not clear up. The breakout might probably be due to other factors such as the diet you’re on or even the stress you might have. 

It’s also worth noting that your workout routine might also be a culprit in your acne breakout. (7)

If you think that the meal replacement shake is what’s causing the problem, you can stop consuming it.

Also, after getting rid of meal shakes, make sure you get proper protein from whole food sources.

Closing Thoughts

Now you know!

Meal shakes can cause acne, but only if they have that ingredient that’s known to cause it. If you experience any breakout when consuming a shake with whey, try a different type instead.

There are tons of options, and you won’t feel stranded. 

If you can’t find what’s causing the breakout, there are many ways to go about it. You can even try an elimination diet. 


Yes, protein shakes and powders that contains whey can potentially cause acne, particularly in people who are sensitive to them.

Protein shakes can cause breakouts if they contain whey or added sugar.



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Jennifer Pantall
Jennifer Pantall is a Nutrition Therapy Practitioner. She loves tennis and has one daughter with a lovely husband whom she adores. Jennifer also loves to spend time outdoors playing with her dog or walking in nature. You can find more about me here.

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