The quests for natural nootropics and anti-aging skincare products intersect with DMAE. It’s supposed to boost your mood, cognition, and skin health – but it might do the opposite instead. We reveal the science behind its benefits and side effects, helping you decide whether it’s worth a try.

What is DMAE?

DMAE (2-dimethylaminoethanol or dimethylethanolamine) is a substance that occurs naturally in your brain. Sardines, anchovies, and other seafood contain minor amounts of DMAE, but it is not considered a nutrient [1].

DMAE supplies choline, a component essential for a healthy brain and nervous system. Doctors used to prescribe it under the trade name Deanol for childhood behavioral problems [2].

This drug is no longer available due to questionable safety and efficacy. Despite the Deanol ban, DMAE is still a popular nootropic. It’s an active ingredient in the cognition-enhancing drug centrophenoxine (Lucidril) [3].

You will also find DMAE in anti-aging and moisturizing skin care products – creams, serums, and lotions.

Snapshot

PROS:

  • May enhance mood and cognition
  • May help with attention disorders
  • Improves skin appearance and hydration

CONS:

  • May worsen Alzheimer’s disease and mental disorders
  • May cause confusion and muscle cramps
  • Not safe for pregnant women
  • May damage skin cells

DMAE Benefits

How It Works

DMAE provides antioxidant protection and builds choline, which is essential for [4, 5]:

  • Healthy nerves and brain cells
  • Heart health
  • Fat metabolism

As a choline precursor, DMAE may boost acetylcholine (ACh), a neurotransmitter that plays critical roles in cognition and memory.

However, the impact of DMAE on choline and ACh is complex and not yet fully understood.

DMAE raises the blood levels of choline, but it also competes for the same brain transporter. As a result, it may not boost acetylcholine in the brain [6].

Two studies on rats found no difference in ACh brain levels upon DMAE administration [7, 8].

On the other hand, drugs containing DMAE may stimulate ACh production and cognition. They require other compounds that enhance the uptake and effects of DMAE in the brain [9, 10].

1) May Boost Memory and Cognition

In a clinical trial on 60 patients with mild mental disorders, Deanol (DMAE) improved cognition, strength, and energy levels [11].

A special formulation, DMAE pyroglutamate (1,500 mg/day for 6 days), reversed short-term cognitive impairment in 24 healthy men. Tests on rats revealed the same. Pyroglutamate itself may boost acetylcholine levels and cognition, and it likely contributed to the results [9].

Centrophenoxine, with DMAE as an active component, boosted long-term memory and increased alertness in 60 healthy older subjects [12].

The same drug improved memory in 50 elderly patients with dementia [10].

However, DMAE provided no significant improvement in 2 studies with over 260 Alzheimer’s disease patients. Some even had to quit due to major side effects (more details in “DMAE Side Effects” below) [13, 14].

It also failed to enhance cognition in older people with mild memory loss [15, 16].

Summary

DMEA has the potential to boost cognition and mental clarity, but clinical evidence is weak. Further studies should confirm this benefit.

2) May Improve Mood

A supplement with DMAE, vitamins, and minerals improved mood, energy, and wellbeing in a trial on 80 healthy subjects [17].

In 14 senile patients, DMAE (1,800 mg daily for 4 weeks) reduced the signs of depression, anxiety, and irritability [16].

Centrophenoxine, which contains DMAE, reduced anxiety in rats exposed to stress. In another study on rats, it boosted the brain levels of dopamine and serotonin, which are essential for good mental health [18, 19].

3) May Help with Attention Disorders

Some users claim that DMAE helps with ADHD and other attention disorders, but the evidence for this is scarce.

3-month treatment with Deanol (DMAE, 500 mg) improved school performance in 74 children with behavior and learning disorders. However, the study had significant drawbacks we’ll discuss in “Limitations and Caveats” below [20].

4) Boosts Skin Appearance

DMAE has gained popularity in skin care due to its supposed anti-aging benefits. Some claim it affects the “Brain-Beauty” connection. The science seems to back up these claims with emerging evidence.

Facial gel with 3% DMAE (applied for 4 months) reduced the signs of skin aging in a clinical trial. Those who used the gel reported an improvement in [21]:

  • Forehead and eye area coarse wrinkles
  • Lip shape and fullness
  • Dark circles around the eyes
  • Neck firmness
  • Overall skin youthfulness

In another trial on 30 volunteers, 3% DMAE gel increased facial skin firmness [22].

A formulation with DMAE hydrated the skin and boosted collagen production in human subjects and mice [23].

Mesotherapy (skin injections with tiny needles) with DMAE and amino acids increased the levels of collagen and had notable anti-aging effects in rats [24].

According to studies on cell cultures and rabbit’s skin, the anti-aging effects of DMAE partly stem from cell damage and skin swelling, which might be a safety concern (more details in “Side Effects” below) [25, 26].

Effects on Movement Disorders

There’s no evidence to back up the anecdotal benefits of DMAE for movement disorders.

Clinical trials have found no significant improvement of tardive dyskinesia, chorea, and other movement disorders [27, 28, 29, 30].

Limitations and Caveats

Although DMAE may improve cognition and mental health, the clinical evidence remains weak. Most positive trials had tiny samples, lacked placebo controls, or included other supplements [9, 16, 17].

The cognitive benefits of Centrophenoxine may not translate to pure DMAE.

The only clinical trial with the potential perks of DMAE for attention disorders had [20]:

  • Small and uneven sample
  • Issues with children selection
  • Poor symptom measurement

DMAE Side Effects

Mental Health

DMAE worsened the symptoms of depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia in some patients with mental disorders [31, 27].

In one clinical trial with Alzheimer’s disease patients, 6 out of 13 subjects had to quit due to drowsiness and cognitive disturbance [14].

According to some case reports, higher doses of DMAE may cause insomnia, muscle cramps, and twitches [2, 32].

Pregnancy

Pregnant women should avoid DMAE because it may cause birth defects. It impaired choline metabolism in mouse embryos, which led to birth defects and growth retardation [33, 34].

Skin

Skin application of gels and creams with DMAE didn’t cause irritation or other side effects in clinical studies [21, 23].

However, 3% DMAE gel caused swelling of the rabbit’s ear skin, indicating cell injury. In another study, higher DMAE concentrations (up to 10%) inhibited the growth of human skin cells and even increased their death rate [25, 26].

Given the above results, you may want to go slow with DMAE for your skin and avoid concentrated serums.

DMAE Supplements

Capsulated DMAE bitartrate (130 – 250 mg pure DMAE) is the most popular supplement type, followed by bulk powders.

For those aiming at skincare, different DMAE creams and anti-age serums are available. Most of them also contain coenzyme Q10, vitamin C, MSM, vitamin E, and other beneficial ingredients. In clinical trials, 3% DMAE gel improved skin appearance, used daily for 4 months [21, 22].

Dosage

The following DMAE dosage was efficient in clinical trials:

  • Cognitive impairment
    • Short-term: 1,500 mg daily for 6 days [9]
    • In mental disorders: 1,000 mg daily for 1 month [11]
  • Mood in senile patients: 600 mg, 3X daily for 1 month [16]
  • Attention disorders in children: 500 mg daily for 3 months [20]

Reviews

People report positive results with DMAE for memory, mental clarity, and energy. Some parents have managed to control their children’s symptoms of ADHD and other attention disorders.

Users are warning about sleep issues and agitation at higher doses. Other reported side effects include dizziness, headaches, and worsened mood disorders (irritability, depression).

Most users have confirmed the anti-aging skin benefits of DMAE for both pills and cosmetics. Some of them add it to homemade creams and face masks. Skin irritation and unpleasant smell are the most common complaints.

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Takeaway

DMAE is used to make choline and occurs naturally in your body. Seafood contains small amounts, while supplements can provide much more.

DMAE may boost your mood and cognition, and it might also help with attention disorders. Several nootropics contain DMAE. However, avoid it if you have mental health problems or Alzheimer’s as it may worsen your symptoms. Pregnant women should also avoid DMAE.

Skincare products with DMAE can tighten your skin and give it a more youthful appearance. But use them in moderation and avoid highly concentrated serums – they may cause skin irritation.

Since studies on this compound are few, carefully weigh its pros and cons before using it.

About the Author

Aleksa Ristic, MSc (Pharmacy)

MS (Pharmacy)

Aleksa received his MS in Pharmacy from the University of Belgrade, his master thesis focusing on protein sources in plant-based diets.

 

Aleksa is passionate about herbal pharmacy, nutrition, and functional medicine. He found a way to merge his two biggest passions—writing and health—and use them for noble purposes. His mission is to bridge the gap between science and everyday life, helping readers improve their health and feel better.

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