- DMAE has typically been used to promote focus and memory.
- More recently it’s been claimed that DMAE is effective in treating wrinkles, sagging skin, and inflammation.
- Regardless of whether or not these claims are true, DMAE may also be damaging your skin.
What is DMAE?
Dimethylaminoethanol — the molecule also known as DMAE — is commonly used to treat a variety of mental ailments.
It is, for example, an ingredient in medications like Deanol, for ADHD, and Lucidril, for senile dementia. But the positive effects of DMAE are believed to extend beyond mental wellness. It’s also found in skincare products that promise anti-aging benefits.
What does DMAE do?
DMAE boosts choline levels in the body. This water-soluble vitamin is essential for the creation of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that aids memory by strengthening communication between nerve cells. For that reason, DMAE is used to treat dementia and related conditions, like Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s.
Increased levels of acetylcholine also act as a mild stimulant, making it an effective aid in the treatment of ADHD. In fact, researchers have discovered that children with ADHD suffer from an acetylcholine deficiency, which is why DMAE has become a fairly common treatment for the disorder.
Acetylcholine’s effects on the body go beyond brain function. This neurotransmitter is found throughout the nervous system, including the skin, and DMAE boosts acetylcholine levels anywhere it’s found.
DMAE is also given credit for boosting phosphatidylcholine, a fatty acid (lipid) that stems from choline. Phosphatidylcholine is believed to have an antioxidant effect that protects skin cells from free radical damage. This effect may be linked to similar claims that DMAE enhances the ability of skin cells to retain water, a process that helps cells heal but may also lead to tighter skin.
Finally, DMAE is said to reduce lipofuscin, a brownish pigment that leads to liver spots, and also reduce arachidonic, a chemical that can cause pain and inflammation. All of these effects have potential benefits for the skin.
DMAE skin claims: Fact or fiction?
Many people use DMAE to promote healthy skin because it seems to provide real results, regardless of what science says about it.
Typically, DMAE is applied as a facial cream, but the molecule can be found in a variety of products, including scrubs and serums.
DMAE is popularly used to treat the following conditions:
- Fine lines and wrinkles
- Sagging skin on the face and neck
- Under-eye circles
- Nasolabial folds
- Liver spots
But does DMAE really alleviate all of these conditions?
A 2002 study published in Skin Research and Technology observed skin tightening benefits after giving a 3% DMAE cream to test subjects. However, the researchers also noted that there was a high variability in results — too high to be considered conclusive.
Similarly, a 2005 study in the American Journal of Dermatology observed that DMAE could reduce inflammation and improve the firmness of skin. Yet it’s worth noting that this same study states that DMAE may not be any more effective than other options. Another study, published in 2009, noted that DMAE seemed to improve skin hydration.
These and other clinical studies have observed DMAE’s positive effects on the skin, most notably when it comes to skin tightening; in fact, several patents have gone out for DMAE-centered skin products based on these findings. It would seem that there’s merit to the claims regarding DMAE’s benefits for the skin.
What are the side effects of DMAE for skin care?
Although it seems that DMAE might be an effective skin tightening therapy, that still doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to use it. The molecule may come with side effects, particularly when ingested, and recent research has raised questions about the underlying mechanisms that supposedly benefit the skin.
If DMAE is ingested in large doses, as in the case of an oral supplement intended to benefit the skin or health overall, the following side effects may result. However, these particular side effects do not appear to be a concern for individuals who use DMAE topically.
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Muscle tension
Topically applied, DMAE is connected to another set of concerns.
A 2007 study in the British Journal of Dermatology was critical of using DMAE for skin care. The study noted that topical DMAE triggered a process known as cellular vacuolization, in which vacuoles, or pockets of fluid, form in and around skin cells.
This is a common occurrence when skin cells become damaged, as the vacuoles help cells to remove damaged cell parts and foreign substances. The researchers took this as a sign that the cells were actually being damaged by the DMAE. Otherwise, why would they go through this reparative process?
The researchers also stated that, “The vacuolar cytopathology induced by concentrated organic amines may be the cellular basis of the antiwrinkle effect of DMAE.” In other words, the reparative process that the cells go through in response to DMAE may also be responsible for making the skin appear smoother.
In short, skin cells might be damaged by the very same underlying function that causes the skin to look younger.
Some have taken this as a sign that DMAE isn’t as safe as was originally thought. But not everyone is concerned about vacuolization, suggesting that it could be a good thing in moderation, and that excessive vacuolization is only connected to higher concentrations of DMAE.
Anti-aging alternatives to DMAE
So, what’s the truth? Is DMAE damaging to skin cells, or is it a safe and healthy ingredient in anti-aging products?
The verdict is still out, with many continuing to promote DMAE and others warning against its potentially damaging side-effects. It’s fair to say that the molecule has potential for skin care therapy, but it might be a good idea to wait and see what further medical studies reveal.
In the meantime, here are some non-surgical anti-aging alternatives you might like to try:
Botox injections suppress nerve activity in the facial muscles. This reduces the appearance of fine lines and some wrinkles. If done regularly, the injections can also be a preventative measure against wrinkles.
- Dermal fillers
- Chemical peels
Chemical peels treat a wide range of skin concerns by literally peeling away the surface layer of your skin to reveal fresh skin underneath. They can treat everything from fine lines to deep-set acne issues.
- Laser resurfacing
Like chemical peels, laser resurfacing involves removing the top layers of the skin. A laser is used to remove these layers with the intention of stripping away blemishes and creating smoother, more even skin.
- IPL photofacial
Intense pulsed light (IPL) photofacials use lightwaves to penetrate the skin with minimal damage. These waves are credited with everything from reducing pore size to boosting collagen production.
At the end of the day, the best anti-aging treatment is the one that you’re comfortable with and that your dermatologist recommends. While you’re figuring out what that might be, take care of your skin by getting enough sleep, wearing sunscreen, and drinking plenty of water.
» For more skin care tips, meet our Medical Review team.