News & Perspectives

DMAE Gel Appears to Help Skin Firmness
What the Study Showed

A gel formulation containing the naturally occurring chemical compound DMAE (dimethylaminoethanol) appeared to increase skin firmness in this small study of 30 volunteers.

Results of the randomized, double-blind trial were published in the journal Skin Research and Technology in 2002. The research was supported by the healthcare and cosmetics giant Johnson & Johnson.

How It Was Done

Initially, eight healthy adults (between the ages of 26 and 53) were given a formulation containing 3% DMAE to apply to one cheek, and a similar formulation without DMAE for the other cheek. However, during testing of the skin 10 minutes later, investigators detected no significant differences between the two cheeks or among the participants in terms of skin tension (formally called the skin tensor effect). In other words the results were inconclusive.

In the second more technically sophisticated phase of the study, 30 healthy adults (women between the ages of 36 and 49) were given tests that measured changes in skin tautness (again, skin tensor effect) using a method called shear wave propagation. This reportedly precise and sensitive test was done before the application of a pea-size amount of either a placebo or a gel containing 3% DMAE it was then re-administered 45 minutes after applying the gel.

Results indicated that the placebo formulation had little or no effect on the "resonance running time measurement," or RRTM, an assessment of the speed at which skin surface ultrasound waves travel. The test is designed to illustrate the density and tension inside the skin. Unlike the placebo formulation, the one with DMAE did, in fact, tend to generate RRTM changes indicative of greater skin tautness. (In technical terms, results showed there was a significant decrease in the maximum RRTM.)

Why It's Important

Decreased firmness or sagging, of the skin is a universal occurrence as people age. In the present study, topical application of the chemical dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE) seemed to decrease skin slackness, making it appear more taut.

If these findings are accurate and reproducible in larger studies, it may have significant implications, especially since so many individuals desire to recapture the "younger" look that comes with firmer skin.

It is still not clear, however, how DMAE actually works to produce firmer skin. Investigators offer several potential explanations. First, it's possible that DMAE enhances water retention in the superficial connective tissue of the skin by permitting a re-partition of water in the molecules and cellular membranes of the dermis. The surface of the skin could be expected to tighten temporarily as a result.

Another possibility is that the DMAE positively influences the skin's pathways for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. This would help increase the ability of certain skin cells, in the epidermis and the dermis, to contract (a quality known as contractility). Acetylcholine is responsible for sending signals from nerves to muscles; in this case it may be able to promote a form of muscle-tightening in the skin.


Uhoda I, Faska N, Robert C, et al. Split face study on the cutaneous tensile effect of 2-dimethylaminoethanol (deanol) gel. Skin Research and Technology 2002;8:164-167.

Date Published: 10/30/2003
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