dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE)

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Cell-Communicating Ingredients
What little research there is about DMAE relates to its effect as an oral supplement, and the findings are mixed. DMAE, known chemically as 2-dimethyl-amino-ethanol, has been available in Europe under the product name Deanol for over 30 years. As an oral supplement it is popularly known for improving mental alertness, much like Ginkgo biloba and coenzyme Q10. However, the research about DMAE does not show the same positive results found with the other two supplements. Because DMAE is chemically similar to choline, it is thought to stimulate production of acetylcholine, and because acetylcholine is a brain neurotransmitter, it’s easy to see how it could be associated with brain function. However, only a handful of studies have looked at DMAE for that purpose and they have not been conclusive in the least, while some have shown that DMAE may be problematic or not very effective (Sources: Mechanisms of Aging and Development, February 1988, pages 129–138; Neuropharmacology, June 1989, pages, 557–561; and European Neurology, 1991, pages 423–425).

Despite the lack of evidence supporting any claim that DMAE has any effect on skin, there are hundreds of Web sites claiming that it does. It is possible that DMAE can help protect the cell membrane, and keeping cells intact can have benefit, but so far that appears to be only conjecture, not fact—and this protective benefit may in face be detrimental.

A study published in The British Journal of Dermatology (March 2007) has shown contrary evidence that it may actually pose risks for the skin. In vitro tests of the pure substance, as well as tests of moisturizers that contain DMAE, demonstrated a fairly fast and significant increase in protective elements around the skin cell. However, a short time later the researchers observed a significant decrease in cell growth and in some cases they found that it had halted cell growth altogether. Small-scale studies of topical application to human and animal skin showed an increase in dermal thickness after seven days, but that’s hardly conclusive or indicative of what may happen with long-term use. DMAE is also known to induce skin cell death and to reduce the proliferation of fibroblasts, which are cells in skin that manufacture collagen (Sources: Pharmazie, December 2009, pages 818–822; and Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, November-December 2007, pages 711–718).

Interestingly, there is a formulation challenge when using DMAE in skin-care products. In order to maintain efficacy and stability, the product’s pH level needs to be at least 10. A pH of 10 is highly alkaline, which isn’t good news for skin. A high pH like this can increase bacteria content in the pore and cause dryness and irritation. Moreover, since almost all moisturizers (including serums and eye creams) are formulated with a pH that closely matches that of human skin (generally 5.5–6.5, which is on the acidic side of the scale), in all likelihood the DMAE used in skin-care products cannot have any prolonged functionality. (Source: Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, Supplement 72, 2008, pages S17–S22). Additional supporting source for the information above: www.naturaldatabase.com

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About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to helping you find the absolute best products for your skin, using research-based criteria to review beauty products from an honest, balanced perspective. Each member of the team was personally trained by Paula herself.

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