Here at Sönd, we regularly write about the ingredients that are commonly found in skincare products. Be that products that firm sagging skin or act as anti-aging ingredients, or help to manage oily, acne prone or dry skin types, we tackle them.
Some, we wholly accept as ingredients that are kind to the skin, and 100% belong in nourishing skincare products (such as ours) that support and look after the complex needs of our skin. But others, we question them, and some we completely avoid.
In this article, we take a look at an ingredient you may have come across called DMAE, or dimethyl MEA.
The Best Skin Care, Our Way
We love skincare ingredients such as plant based oils and other botanicals that hydrate, gently exfoliate or soothe. And we heap special praise on silica salt compounds that are alkalising and ideal for skin that might be prone to acne breakouts or rosacea.
Other common skincare ingredients, we might not agree with so much (parabens, phthalates and mineral oils being particular bugbears of ours).
But with so many different ingredients being added to cleansers, moisturisers, toners, serums and all manner of other products that are applied topically, it’s hard to keep up. Even for us, and we’re at the forefront of skin loving ingredient research!
But you can rely on us to do all the hard work for you. Each week, we take a number of ingredients and put them in the spotlight. Are they the good, bad or very bad of the skincare world, are they suitable for your skin type and do they really belong on our bathroom shelves?
All you need to do is put the kettle on, take a ten minute break and read all about it.
So kick back, because here goes. What is DMAE for skin, is it beneficial, is it safe to use and why is DMAE used in skincare products?
What is DMAE?
DMAE is a derivative of a compound called choline which is a relatively recently discovered nutrient. Choline is often considered one of the B vitamins as it’s so similar in structure to these vitamins. But actually, choline is neither a vitamin or a mineral, but is an essential nutrient that we need for healthy liver function, brain development and normal muscle and nerve function.
Choline derived DMAE is listed in skin care ingredients under many, many aliases. The list of names for DMAE is extensive, and includes dimethyl MEA, DMAE bitartrate, deanol (often alone or followed by another word such as benzilate or tartrate), dimethylaminoethanol and dimethylethanolamine. (So you can see why it’s often simply called DMAE!)
Is DMAE Available as a Supplement?
DMAE is found naturally in oily fish, such as salmon and sardines. But DMAE is also available in supplement form, where it’s marketed as a supplement to support brain function, enhance our memory function and improve our mood.
Some studies suggest that it could be beneficial for conditions that affect the brain such as depression, dementia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
But in more recent years, DMAE has started appearing in skin care products. But what are the benefits of DMAE on the skin cells?
Why is DMAE Added to Skincare Products?
Somewhere along the line, it was discovered that DMAE had potential use as a skincare ingredient. It’s said that when used topically, DMAE skin benefits include helping to reduce the fine lines that can appear around the eyes and on the forehead as a result of normal skin ageing.
There is also evidence that DMAE can improve the shape and fullness of the lips and the overall appearance of skin that has begun to show signs of ageing. DMAE creams may help to improve the skin further, by addressing skin concerns such as fine lines and wrinkles and improving the overall appearance of aging skin.
But in fact, the science is very limited. There have only been a few research papers written on the benefits of DMAE in products designed to improve skin.
Can DMAE Tighten and Lead to Firmer Skin?
One study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology in 2005, found that when 3 percent DMAE was applied to the skin, it had a firming effect on the skin and improve signs of inflammation. It hypothesised that DMAE did this by possibly having “an involvement in underlying facial muscle tone”, potentially leading to a swelling of the cells to promote firmness.
In other words, DMAE might help to tighten the layers of muscle lying underneath the skin and reduce the appearance of wrinkles and aged looking skin.
Can DMAE Skincare Creams Improve Hydration?
Another study, this time in 2009 and published in the Pharmazie journal, found that DMAE skin benefits could include the potential to hydrate the skin.
Hydrated skin has a healthier appearance and make the skin appear more plump. Therefore researchers concluded that DMAE had the potential to do this by increasing the thickness of the dermal layer of skin. (The dermal layer is the thickest layer of skin that lays underneath the top layers. It contains all of the fibrous and elastic tissues that give our skin its texture and suppleness.)
This same study also found that when DMAE has been used to treat the skin, it had the potential to increase the thickness of the collagen fibres in the skin that contribute to youthfulness and plumpness.
The Benefits of DMAE Skincare and Choline
DMAE helps to boost the natural levels of choline in the body. Choline is essential for the production of acetylcholine, another important compound in the body. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that sends messages between nerve cells and is therefore important for our memory.
Higher levels of acetylcholine are an interesting area of research into treatments for degenerative brain disorders such as dementia. It’s also a mild stimulant that’s showing potential in the management of ADHD.
But the effects of acetylcholine on the body go further than the brain health.
It plays a role in the skin too, where it helps to tighten the muscles used for facial expressions. The tighter the muscles, the more youthful the skin.
What’s more, DMAE can also help boost levels of a compound called phosphatidylcholine which is a type of fatty acid. It has an antioxidant effect on the skin and helps to protect against free radical damage and improve the appearance of dehydrated skin. It also has anti-inflammatory effects that may help improve irritated skin on the face and neck.
The problem is, unlike with other, more well understood and researched ingredients, there aren’t that many more studies that look at how well DMAE works as a skin care ingredient.
What’s even more troubling, is that it has been associated with several disadvantages…
Is DMAE Safe? Are There Any Bad DMAE Side Effects to the Skin?
Although in this article, we're talking about DMAE skin creams and facial gels, we need to also mention the potential dangers of taking DMAE supplements. There are documented side effects to taking supplements containing DMAE including stomach upsets, headaches, an increase in blood pressure, drowsiness and irritability.
It’s also advised that pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid using DMAE as there is a possibility they may cause neural tube defects in their baby. Conclusive scientific and medical research also says that people with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or epilepsy should also avoid taking them.
When used in creams and moisturisers, researchers also found that DMAE has been linked with skin irritation and redness. So is DMAE skin care bad for your skin? Potentially, yes, especially if you already have sensitive or contrary skin.
Should I Use DMAE for Skin on My Face?
Is DMAE safe for skin use? We think given the limited research available, and the fact that there are potential side effects associated with DMAE, that it’s probably more advantageous if we avoid it.
If you do choose to use products that contain DMAE, then choose them wisely and don’t overload the skin with more than one DMAE product.
We don’t add DMAE to our skincare products, and think it’s far better to use ingredients with proven efficacy that can do the same things as DMAE, without the risk of side effects.
For example, ingredients that we use, such as glycerin and squalane help to hydrate the skin, and are naturally derived from plants. (DMAE originates from fish, and may be artificially made in a laboratory to make it more ‘friendly’.)
Our collection of nourishing, calming, alkalising products has an army of fans, and we absolutely believe in them and use them ourselves.
So if you’re looking for skin care products that work, that contain no questionable ingredients, make your skin care regime Sönd!
This article is not meant to treat or diagnose. Please visit your doctor for advice about any health concerns you may have.