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Friday, 31 May 2002 19:00

Volume 33, Issue 6, Page 28 (June 2002)


DR. LESLIE S. BAUMANN is director of cosmetic dermatology at the University of Miami. Dr. Justin Vujevich, a research fellow at the university, contributed to the column. To respond to this column, or to suggest topics for future columns, write to Dr. Baumann at our editorial offices or via e-mail at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Despite a lack of peer-reviewed data, dimethylaminoethanol, or DMAE, is a hot new cosmeceutical agent. DMAE is touted as a way to improve the firmness of the skin and to help reduce the visual appearance of sagging skin (cutis laxa). This is an interesting twist, since most cosmetic products market their ability to improve the superficial texture and fine surface wrinkles of the face.

DMAE is an amine-based alcohol (C4H11NO). A precursor choline to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, DMAE is present in nerve tissue in small amounts. It is found in marine food sources such as anchovies and sardines. In addition to its use as a cosmeceutical ingredient, DMAE is sold in health food stores as an oral dietary supplement to improve memory, enhance learning, and increase physical endurance.

In terms of its effect on aging, one study showed that mice and Drosophila that were given DMAE had increased life spans (Exp. Gerontol. 8[4]:185-91, 1973). This finding highlights one of the hypotheses of aging: Cell membranes gradually lose their ability to eliminate damaged components that have accumulated in the cytoplasm. This is partly due to oxidative damage caused by free radicals. As a result, degradation of the cell membrane leads to inhibited cell growth, and in turn, accelerates the aging process.

Dr. I. Zs.-Nagy showed that DMAE acts as a free radical scavenger due to the high electron content of its nitrogen atom (Arch. Gerontol. Geriatr. 9[3]:215-29, 1989). Once phosphorylated, DMAE is incorporated into the membrane of cells, protecting against the cell membrane protein cross-linking. In addition, DMAE is an immediate precursor to choline, which is involved in cell membrane biosynthesis.

Armed with this preliminary data and this hypothesis of aging, health supplement manufacturers began to market oral DMAE to maintain youthfulness and retard aging.

However, other studies failed to confirm these results (Mech. Ageing Dev. 42[2]:129-38, 1988). One placebo-controlled study conducted by Dr. A. Cherkin and Dr. M.J. Exkardt actually reported a decrease in the life span of mice that were fed DMAE (J. Gerontol. 32[1]:38-45, 1977).

Dr. Nicholas Perricone of Meriden, Conn., is a big promoter of DMAE; it is included in many of the products in his N.V. Perricone M.D. Cosmeceuticals skin care line.

In his book, “The Wrinkle Cure” (New York: Warner Books, 2001), Dr. Perricone touts DMAE as “an instant antiaging facelift.” Unfortunately, the available data are not as convincing as this statement.

In one of his own unpublished studies of 17 patients, DMAE applied topically to half of the face and neck resulted in an increase in skin tone on the treated areas. Dr. Perricone does not state whether he used a double-blind model, so these results are unlikely to be scientific and meaningful.

Another unpublished long-term study by Dr. Perricone showed that topically applied DMAE improved skin firmness. Again, the design of the study is not disclosed; therefore these data are meaningless.

Several posters on studies testing topical DMAE were presented at this year's annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology in New Orleans. All were supported, at least in part, by Johnson & Johnson Consumer Products Co., which markets several products containing DMAE. The posters included the following:

▶ A double-blind, randomized, moisturizing base-controlled, split-face pilot study of 27 patients conducted by Dr. James J. Leyden of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and his associates showed that after 12 weeks of twice-daily use of a facial cream containing DMAE (3%) and tyrosine, patients treated with the active gel had significantly improved skin firmness and decreased signs of laxity and skin sagging, compared with the patients treated with the vehicle. Firmness was measured using study participant questionnaire responses and 2-D and 3-D imaging.

▶ Another double-blind, randomized, vehicle-controlled, split-face study of 50 female patients by Christiane Bertin of Johnson & Johnson Consumer France, and associates, showed that patients using a topical gel with 3% DMAE with 0.5% tyrosine daily for 2 months had significantly improved skin lift, smoothed cheek area skin, and a decrease in the appearance of bags and dark circles under the eyes, compared with vehicle-treated patients. Study participants were evaluated based on clinical assessment and a visual analog scale. No objective measurements were used.

▶ A multicenter, placebo-controlled, double-blind study of 156 patients conducted by Dr. Rachel Grossman of Johnson & Johnson, Skillman, N.J., looked at the long-term safety and efficacy of 3% DMAE gel vs. vehicle. This study demonstrated significant improvements in the DMAE-treated group with regard to forehead lines, under-eye skin firmness, lip and cheek firmness, and overall appearance of their skin. In addition, there were no significant side effects with the active product vs. the vehicle. Interestingly, there were neither statistically significant differences in coarse wrinkle improvement nor changes in sagging skin—the use for which DMAE has been touted.

DMAE can be found in several newly marketed RoC products: Protient Lift night firming cream, Protient Actif Pur daily firming gel, and Protient Actif Pur eye contouring gel.

All of these products contain a combination of DMAE, tyrosine, and other emollients. RoC is a division of the Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies Inc. In addition, N.V. Perricone M.D. Cosmeceuticals has its own line of products containing NTP Complex, a mixture of DMAE and other nutrients.

Topical DMAE appears to be tolerated by patients, with no serious side effects reported so far. Patients do, however, report a tingling sensation—sometimes strong—after applying products. Some who have used DMAE products also have reported a “fishy” odor.

Right now, the data on DMAE must be considered preliminary, and the exact mechanism of how DMAE improves the appearance of skin—if indeed it does have an effect—is still unknown.

More studies must be done, especially ones that employ standardized methodologies and are conducted by unbiased researchers. Head-to-head comparisons with established agents are needed as well. Until more convincing data are available, I would not recommend DMAE products to my patients.

© 2002 International Medical News Group. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.