DMAE (also known as dimethyl MEA or dimethyl aminoethanol) is an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant ingredient that is included in a number of N.V. Perricone M.D. skincare products, including N.V. Perricone Solar Protection for Face SPF 26 ($48.00, Sephora.com). But how effective is this ingredient in fighting the signs of aging, including loss of firmness and wrinkles?
So what is DMAE?
According to “Dimethylaminoethanol: A New Ingredient for Aging Skin” in the Textbook of Cosmetic Dermatology (Baran and Maibach), DMAE is a simple amino base and a synthetic analog of the B vitamin choline. In skin care products, DMAE is commonly used partially as a pH buffer, with a basic pH of approximately 10 in the unneutralized state. In oral supplements, DMAE passes oral toxicology tests in doses up to 1600 mg/day and may be used to improve memory, symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and to prevent Alzheimer’s Disease, according to Life Extension Magazine. However, according to the Textbook of Cosmetic Dermatology, DMAE studies on dyskinesia and ADD were non-conclusive.
What do studies show DMAE does for the skin?
1. Increased firmness in undereye, cheekbone and jawbone areas. According to a Textbook of Cosmetic Dermatology-cited, 150 subject (women 35-60 years of age), placebo-controlled, randomized, double-blind, multi-center study featuring DMAE, dermatologists rated the improvement in otherwise untreated women’s skin on a one-to-ten (minimum-to-maximum) scale regularly for one month using digital photography, skin color evaluation and water retention measurements in the stratum corneum (the uppermost layer of the skin). At the end of 29 days, it was found that the change in undereye firmness of women treated with DMAE was 5.15, which suggests a great difference after DMAE use (p < 0.05). The change in cheekbone and cheekfold firmness were 6.96 and 7.00, also a great statistical difference after DMAE use (p < 0.05). The change in jawbone firmness was 5.98, statistically significant to a lesser degree (p < 0.1). The results of DMAE on skin firmness were confirmed again in a randomized, double-blind, split-face second study in the journal Skin Research and Technology. Over longer periods of time, DMAE was found to still increase skin firmness in a third study (mentioned in The Textbook of Cosmetic Dermatology) in which 35 subjects used DMAE for 8 months.
2. Increased fullness of lips. For women among the 150 in the first aforementioned study, the average increase in lip fullness was 5.43 on a one-to-ten scale after 29 days of use, again a number that is highly statistically significant (p < 0.05).
3. Slightly reduced wrinkle appearance. This review in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology cites a study in which 3% DMAE applied for 16 weeks decreased forehead lines and periorbital fine wrinkles and improved lip shape and fullness in a manner that was statistically significant (p < 0.05).
4. Slightly decreased inflammation. DMAE has been called a “moderately acute anti-inflammatory” agent in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology.
How does DMAE work?
According to Life Extension Magazine, researchers offer two possible explanations for these results. One, DMAE may enhance water retention in connective skin tissue. This would cause for the skin to appear and feel firmer. Two, DMAE has been demonstrated to affect cholinergic transmission between neurons, whether as an inhibitor or an antagonist in the sea urchin. It has been hypothesized that DMAE’s effect on synaptic transmission may promote a form of muscle tightening in the skin. A third study, found in the May 2007 British Journal of Dermatology, discovered that DMAE delivers a fast and significant increase in protective elements around human skin cells in vitro (i.e., in a dish). However, more research clearly needs to be done to see the exact mechanism by which DMAE firms the skin.
Is DMAE harmful?
According to the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, application of DMAE has been found to be well-tolerated amongst patients, with no differences in the incidence of erythema, peeling, dryness, itching, burning, or stinging between the DMAE and placebo groups. An open-label extension of the trial further demonstrated that the long-term application of DMAE gel for up to 1 year was associated with a good safety profile. (Studies after this time period have not been conducted or published). Although it has been suggested in the May 2007 British Journal of Dermatology that human skin cells cultured with 3% DMAE exhibit a moderate cytotoxicity, this has only been found in this in vitro study. In actual human subjects, DMAE seems to have a good safety profile, as stated most notably in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology.
What are some skin care products containing DMAE?
1. N.V. Perricone Advanced Face Firming Activator ($120.00, Amazon.com). Contains a high concentration of the AHA glycolic acid, along with alpha lipoic acid and DMAE to increase firmness and reduce the appearance of wrinkles somewhat. It has been found to have efficacy similar to Retin-A, for a similar cost per package and no prescription. For a full review, please click here. Rating: 8/10. A very good product! [Personal note: Based on research, if I were more concerned about wrinkles, I would talk to my doctor about Retin-A or use a non-prescription retinoid cream instead. If I were more concerned about skin firmness, I would use this product. If I was concerned about both, I would not use both together because they contain retinoids and AHAs, which are too strong to use in combination, according to several dermatologists. In that case, I would speak to my dermatologist for a personalized recommendation and probably end up using the Perricone product once/week alone, the Retin-A or non-prescription retinoid cream on the other days. However, this is a personal opinion, and I am not a doctor yet, so please keep that in mind.]
2. N.V. Perricone Solar Protection for Face SPF 26 ($48.00, Sephora.com). Contains DMAE and zinc oxide for UVA/UVB SPF protection. Zinc Oxide has been shown in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology to be a safe physical sunblock that is effective in the long-range UVA spectrum. Unfortunately, DMAE is in very low concentration in this product. Rating: 2/10.
3. N.V. Perricone Vitamin C Ester Amine Complex Face Lift ($90.00, Sephora.com). Ironically, it contains a lot more DMAE than vitamin C, despite the product’s name. Should be a good product for firming the skin, although it is expensive, especially considering the low concentration of vitamin C with the rather misleading name. Product rating: 5/10 (a lot of DMAE, but not a lot of vitamin C).
As a result…
DMAE in concentrations of about 3% in topical formulations has been shown to significantly increase skin firmness and to slightly reduce the appearance of wrinkles and skin inflammation. Unfortunately, the efficacy of DMAE has not been compared in any published studies with other established anti-aging ingredients like alpha hydroxy acids and retinoids. Perhaps this is because DMAE is a very well-patented ingredient, most notably by Dr. Perricone, and so companies who regularly conduct research comparing the efficacy of ingredients choose not to include DMAE in their studies, for they could not include DMAE in many formulations anyway. At any rate, based on the current research, DMAE appears to be a very effective ingredient for increasing skin firmness. Happy shopping! 🙂