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DMAE- Anti-ager or cell killer?

December 9, 2011 Reviewed by Marta 11 Comments

I was intrigued to find, when reviewing You Being Beautiful, that the authors (two doctors) warned off using the anti-aging cosmetic ingredient DMAE because it causes cells to die. Although I don't use anything with DMAE, the claim seemed worth verifying - if only to burst Dr Perricone's bubble. DMAE is one of his much-vaunted ingredients and I have always regarded him as a pretender to the throne of anti-aging king.

I have only found one clinical study that demonstrates that the chemical 2-dimethyl-amino-ethanol (dimethylaminoethanol), commonly listed in many anti-aging cosmetics as DMAE, may cause a seriously negative reaction in skin cells. However, the research does seem be thorough, peer reviewed and published in the British Journal of Dermatology.

DMAE has historically been used as an oral supplement to help improve mental alertness. It's found naturally in fish such as sardines and anchovies and has been shown in limited studies to boost brain function and mood when ingested. As a cosmetics ingredient, it has been claimed that DMAE can help reduce wrinkles by preventing cell deterioration and shoring up cell membranes. You will find it in products by Neutrogena and Dr Perricone's Solar Protection Face with DMAE (pictured). According to Dr. P's book, The Wrinkle Cure, DMAE can prevent cell deterioration when applied topically. His Web site, http://www.nvperriconemd.com/, claims that "introducing additional DMAE into our systems" is good way to maintain an anti-aging skin care regimen.

The research that turns this claim on its head was conducted by the Faculty of Medicine at Canada's Université Laval. Tests on human and rabbit skin cells showed a drastic and rapid swelling of fibroblasts, which maintain the connection between cells. Within a few hours after applying DMAE, cell division slowed and at times stopped completely. Twenty-four hours after applying the concentration of DMAE found in anti-wrinkle cosmetics, the fibroblast mortality rate reached over 25%.
Dr. Guillaume Morissette, who co-presented the recent tests on DMAE, suggests that the so-called anti-wrinkle effect may occur as a result of the actual damage suffered by the skin. When the cell becomes damaged, the skin thickens.

"From our point of view the cells are altered. They stop dividing, they stop secreting, and after...24 hours a certain proportion of them die," Dr. Francois Marceau of the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Quebec told Reuters Health.

A 2007 study noted that DMAE swells the fibroblasts, creating an immediately firmer and lifted look that they, ominously, attributed to “vacuolar cytopathology” (it should be noted that this attribution is speculative). 

On the other hand, I found one small study using subjective analysis of side-by-side tests that purports to demonstrate that DMAE is an anti-ager. I have also found a Brazilian study from 2009 (two years after the Canadian one mentioned above) that confirmed that DMAE increased dermal thickness and collagen fiber thickness and noted that there was no "mechanical effect". Another study was conducted by Johnson & Johnson. After 16 weeks, subjects using a DMAE gel showed improvements in the reduction of forehead and periorbital fine lines and 35 people continued the study for an additional eight months with no adverse reactions.

UPDATE: A 2014 animal study of DMAE used in conjuction with amino acids, found that skin became thicker with increased type l and type lll collagen.

  • December 11, 2015

    by Alena

    There are numerous products that use DMAE these days. One doesn't have to spend the money on more expensive products, like Lifecell or comparable priced things. I've bought skincare with DMAE for about $20-25 a jar. You can research products with that ingredient. I read an article on Lifecell that said the key ingredient IS Dmae. With that in mind, cut to the chase and buy something cheaper, if you chose to use it. BUT, I personally would not use DMAE because of things I've read. There hasn't been enough research on long term use of it. What they have done doesn't point to healthiness. We do not yet know over long term what the effects of DMAE will be on a face since it has been proven in scientific studies to enlarge the cells in rabbits. That isn't healthy. On some levels it can be toxic too. Be sure to find out the level of DMAE in the product and do more study about what level is considered safe. So many are using products with DMAE and accepting articles that say it's safe. I'd say that isn't responsible research. People want beautiful skin and DMAE does work. I've used it and it is a significant improvement. If I knew it was safe I'd be using it forever. But I don't trust that enlarging cells is safe. It's not normal.

  • October 12, 2015

    by Jennifer

    I came here looking for info using DMAE for hair but in reading your blog I must comment. You have to be careful interpreting these studies. First and foremost, we do not know how well the concentration used in the Canadian or other studies correspond to topical concentrations in human skin when applied to a living being. . Perhaps this information is in the paper? The dose determines the poison" is a well known saying in toxicology. It would actually be more accurate to say the concentration determines the poison as it is the concentration bathing cells we need to make extrapolations from. We can make just about anything toxic. Sometimes the concentration used in an vitro study would never be reached in vivo or a correlation is thought to make for other reasons, metabolism etc. So the in vitro studies are just one piece of the puzzle. We want to know if this chemical is detrimental used in vivo (in humans) and as a topical application. Pharmacokinetic issues must be addressed if a bold, absolute statement is to be made one way or another. In vitro studies alone rarely yield enough information to make such a bold claim and must be combined with other data for a decision to be reached. Is there metabolism in the skin? Is the chemical sequestered or distributed differently in vivo as compared to in vitro? Etc.... Combining laboratory results with pharmacokinetic data and any available human studies will yield the best results.

  • April 13, 2013

    by Barbara

    So it's good stuff if properly used it seams. I hope so. It kind of sounds too good to be true.

  • February 9, 2011

    by Judy

    Please let me know the cosmetics or product that has the dmae ingredient.
    I would very much appreciate using it. I am sixty years old. Most people I meet up with think I am only fifty or younger.
    I can see my skin changing, eventhough I have taken fantastic care, and wearing a sun shade.
    Thanks,
    Judy

  • October 30, 2010

    by nicegirl

    All, I've been using Dr. Perricone's products with Alpha lipoic acid and DMAE for 3+ years. I don't know whether 3 years is considered to be long term, however I can say that they have made an extremely significant and sustained improvement in my skin. Since about 90 days after beginning use of his products, my skin has been called "flawless" on a regular basis by a relatively large number of people. This did not happen prior to use of the products. This is of course just an anecdote and is no substitute for clinical trials.

  • February 9, 2010

    by Cindie

    Recent study on DMAE

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20095140?itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum&ordinalpos=1

  • September 17, 2009

    by Lisa

    I've been adding 1/8 tea. DMAE to my ionized water which has a PH of 5.5, and a small dab of Regenerist Day Cream in the red jar. I have noticably softer, thicker skin, especially on the neck and hands.

    After reading this I am concerned!

    Does anyone have any newer information?
    Thanks!

  • May 6, 2009

    by marta

    Well tman, that's partly right. I think that you want to cells to split off and make a new one before they die. And anyway, you need to be aware of the Hayflick Limit:
    http://www.truthinaging.com/2007/11/exfoliation-is-regimen-overkill-possible.html
    But I will do some more research on this.

  • May 6, 2009

    by tman

    What is wrong if DMAE kills cells. Don't you want skin cells to die and shed off thus getting new skin to replace quicker?
    I wish someone could address this.

  • December 9, 2008

    by Niall

    I think the problem with the end of your article is that "anti-ager" is a completely vague term. Temporarily tightening the skin may count as an "anti-aging" effect, but this effect can co-exist with the cell damage discovered by the Laval research team. Short-term anti-aging effects may be bought at the price of long-term damage to the skin, which seems to be the case with DMAE.

  • December 9, 2008

    by JulieK

    Marta, You got me (mostly thinking and planning, but a modest beginning, as well) into DIY and, in the process, I've come across articles about DMAE. It seems one must be extremely aware how much they use (recommended not more than 1%) and what other ingredients it is mixed with. If uncertain, anyone attempting a DIY project including DMAE should contact a professional; such as Lotioncrafters. ~jk

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