Dangers of DMAE

Can DMAE help bring back the youthful glow?
Can DMAE help bring back the youthful glow? (Image: "Portrait, 1902" is Copyrighted by Flickr user: bobster855 (Bob Bobster) under the Creative Commons Attribution license.)

DMAE is a substance that is naturally occurring in the brain, serving as a catalyst for the neurotransmitter known as acetylcholine. It stands for dimethylaminoethanol, and skin care and supplement companies have found many uses for it. Many skin care products contain DMAE, proclaiming its benefits as a "bottled face-lift." Still others have offered it as a dietary supplement, advertising that it is able to slow age-related degeneration in the mind. Though SmartSkinCare.com has stated that DMAE has been used profusely in the skin care industry with no incidences of major side effects, the question of how safe DMAE is has surfaced in many circles.

Function in Cognitive Health

Taken as a memory- or focus-improving supplement, DMAE works by causing a reduction in the buildup of lipofuscin in brain cells, as well as cardiovascular and skin cells. According to SmartSkinCare.com, lipofuscin is a substance that accumulates over time with the aging process, though there may be some indication that, rather than being a consequence of aging, lipofuscin actually causes some degeneration on its own. The means by which DMAE has been purported to prevent or reverse decrease in cognitive ability, and even potentially lengthen lifespan, is by reducing the amount of lipofuscin that builds up in or around affected cells.

Function in Skin Care

SmartSkinCare.com indicates that DMAE also aids in the proper use of phosphatidylcholine, which is a major contributor to cell membranes. However it is unclear whether DMAE has its "bottled face-lift" effect because of phosphatidylcholine, its link with acetycholine or by diminishing lipofuscin. Senior Journal, an information site geared toward senior citizens, indicates that it might be due to the fact that DMAE causes skin cells to instantly swell. This instantaneous swelling would result in firmer-looking skin, so this is also a possibility.


Though some, such as Dr. Andrew Weil, state that there is no clear indication of how DMAE works, it continues to be included in a host of skin care products, predominately those marketed as "anti-aging." It is also consistently recommended for conditions such as Alzheimer's, ADHD and those with short-term memory difficulties. While it finds widespread use, the lack of substantial supportive studies gives persons such as Dr. Weil pause in their recommendation. Without specific studies showing marked improvements, it is difficult to gauge the effectiveness of DMAE. Because of this, some physicians see no use in recommending it to their patients,even without a list of harmful side effects.

Major Concerns

Both Dr. Weil and SmartSkinCare.com indicate that there have been no studies which proved any major reactions to DMAE. Its use over more than a decade has not caused any major negative skin reactions or other health conditions, as far as research has shown to this point. SmartSkinCare.com, however, also points out that this is not a reason to suggest the product is completely safe.

Potential Concerns

A study performed by Dr. Morisette and his colleagues in Quebec, published in the British Journal of Dermatology, indicated that the topical application of DMAE significantly slowed cell division. There also was some indication that the rapid and drastic swelling of the skin cells might point to cell damage, as this type of response is a common cellular reaction to damage or the introduction of pathogens. While there is no indication of specific health or skin care problems that may result from this possible damage, it does suggest that, even if not obviously harmful, DMAE is not completely safe.

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