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You are here: Anti-Aging Skin Treatments > Topical Actives >

Will DMAE lift your face, or just your wallet?

Topical DMAE has often been called, mostly by skin care ads and lay media, "the facelift in a jar." To appreciate the scope of this claim, it is important to distinguish between topical agents that reduce the appearance of wrinkles and the ones that reduce facial sag. The former have been around for quite a while. For example, tretinoin (Retin A) has been consistently shown to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles in some people. On the other hand, none of the well known topical agents has been proven to reverse facial sag. This is unfortunate because a sagging face is arguably a more prominent sign of aging than wrinkles. A common thinking goes that even young people may have wrinkles but only older people have sagging faces. True or not, firming is as important for facial rejuvenation as any other facet of skin care.

So what about DMAE? Can it help, or is it just another rub-on facelift scam? The reality is somewhere in between. DMAE won't accomplish anything approaching a well-performed surgical face lift, but it is not useless either. In fact, DMAE may be the first agent proven in a study to have at least some positive effect on facial sag.

What is DMAE and what does it do anyway? DMAE is a short for dimethylaminoethanol, a naturally occurring substance that facilitates the synthesis of a neurotransmitter acetylcholine. DMAE also may stimulate the synthesis of phosphatidylcholine, an important component of cell membranes. Interestingly, DMAE is far better known and researched as a "smart drug" than a skin firming agent. In a number of studies, DMAE has been shown to reduce age-related decline in cognitive ability and memory. It was also found to modestly increase life span of laboratory animals. An intriguing finding in some DMAE studies was that it reduced the accumulation of lipofuscin deposits inside cells. Lipofuscin is a cellular pigment consisting of aggregated chunks of molecular waste. It tends to occur in the cells of older people. It is likely that lipofuscin is not simply a byproduct of aging but also contributes to the aging process. Neurons, heart and skin of older people usually contain particularly large amounts of lipofiscin.

The DMAE-skin connection is less researched. It has been demonstrated that DMAE causes some degree of skin tightening. However, despite speculation it remains unclear how DMAE firms the skin -- whether by stabilizing the membranes, boosting acetylcholine, reducing lipofuscin deposits or none of the above. Whatever the mechanism, the effect of DMAE is often noticeable although seldom dramatic. Besides, even though DMAE can't fully reverse the existing facial sag, it may reduce its further progression. Some people report a cumulative effect with continued use of DMAE.

Another issue is whether topical DMAE is safe. On one hand, it has been extensively used in skin care since the 90s without widespread reports of obvious skin damage. This makes major toxicity of commonly used strengths unlikely. However, this does not rule out a possibility of low-level skin damage. A 2007 study published in the British Journal of Dermatology raised concerns about DMAE's potential to damage skin cells. If you are using or considering topical DMAE, make sure you read our article on DMAE safety.

A number of skin care companies sell DMAE creams, most costing upward of $25 for a small jar. The prices reflect the hype and relative lack of competition from "supermarket" brands. DMAE itself is a rather simple substance, no more costly than alpha hydroxy acids or aspirin. Besides, DMAE does not need special stabilization like vitamin C, and it is easy to disperse in a topical vehicle. Based on purely economic and manufacturing considerations, a DMAE cream should cost well under $10. Is there an alternative to paying a large "hype" premium for a DMAE cream? Yes, there is. It is surprisingly easy and affordable to make your own DMAE cream. An additional advantage of this approach is that you can fine-tune DMAE concentration to fit your skin. For more information on making your own skincare preparations, including a DMAE cream, see our article Do-It-Yourself Anti-Aging Skin Care.

Again, if you are using or considering topical DMAE, whether commercial or DIY, make sure to read our DMAE safety article first.


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