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What is DMAE in skin care products?

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Here at Sönd, we regularly write about the ingredients that are commonly found in skin care products. Some, we wholly accept as ingredients that are kind to the skin, and 100% belong in nourishing skin care products (such as ours) that support and look after the complex needs of our skin. 

We love skin care 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 skin care 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 skin care products, 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 skin care 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. 

In this article, we take a look at an ingredient you may have come across called DMAE, or dimethyl MEA. So kick back, because here goes!

What is DMAE?

DMAE is a derivative of a nutrient called choline which is a relatively recently discovered nutrient. Choline is often considered one of the B vitamins as it’s so similar to these vitamins. But actually, choline is neither a vitamin or a mineral, but is anessential nutrient that we need for healthy liver function and brain development and normal muscle and nerve function. 

Choline derived DMAE islisted in skin care ingredients under many, many aliases. The list of names for DMAE is extensive, but includes dimethyl MEA, DMAE bitartrate, deanol (often alone or followed by another word such as benzilate or tartrate) and dimethylaminoethanol. (So you can see why it’s often simply called DMAE!) 

Oily fish, such as salmon and sardines are good food sources of DMAE. 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 forconditions 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. 

Why is DMAE added to skin care products?

Somewhere along the line, it was discovered that DMAE had potential use as a skin care ingredient. It’s said that DMAE can help toreduce 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. 

But in fact, the science is very limited. There have only been a few research papers written on the benefits of DMAE in skin care products. 

One, published in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology in 2005, found that using a 3% solution of DMAE on the skin helped toincrease the firmness of the skin and improve signs of inflammation. It hypothesised that DMAE did this by possibly having “an involvement in underlying facial muscle tone”. 

In other words, DMAEmight improve the appearance of wrinkles by helping to tighten the layers of muscle lying underneath the skin. 

Another study, this time in 2009 and published in the Pharmazie journal, found that DMAE had the potential tohydrate the skin

Well hydrated skin has a healthier appearance. Therefore researchers concluded that DMAE could increase 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 DMAE had the potential to increase the thickness of thecollagen fibres in the skin that contribute to youthfulness and plumpness. 

The problem is, unlike with other, better 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 side effects…

What are the side effects of using DMAE on the skin?

There are well documentedside 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 due to links with possible neural tube defects in their baby. 

In skin care, products containing DMAE have been linked with skin irritation and redness. 

Should I use DMAE products on my face?

We think given the limited research available, and the fact that there are potential side effects associated with DMAE, that it’s probably best avoided. 

We don’t add DMAE to our skin care 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 andsqualane help to hydrate the skin, and are naturally derived from plants. (Remember, DMAE originates from fish, and may be artificially made in a laboratory to make it more ‘friendly’.)

Our collection of skin care 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


Hannah de Gruchy BSc(Hons)

About Author

Hannah de Gruchy is a freelancer writer who specialises in health and wellness. She has a keen interest in the biology of skin and loves using her words to help separate the real science of skincare from the pseudoscience of some skincare brands. Hannah has a degree in Human Biology and many years’ experience working in laboratories around London. Using this experience, Hannah enjoys turning complex science into interesting, engaging and easy to digest pieces to read. In her spare time, Hannah runs, practices yoga and loves cooking plant based foods.

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