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Science of Fullerene

The History of Fullerene

In our impression fullerene, by its very name, is a very special substance. However, it is composed of carbon, which is a common chemical element.

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Carbon has diverse forms. It is one of the basic elements constituting organisms and contained in the basic structure of organic substances such as protein, amino acids, and fat, along with other elements such as hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. Besides these organic substances it is known that there are some substances consisting solely of carbon. The best-known example is diamond which is known as jewelry. It is a very hard material, and is popular not only in the jewelry industry, but also in industrial fields as it is used as diamond cutters. Another common substance comprised only of carbon is graphite. Graphite is used as pencil lead by taking advantage of its property of peeling off layer by layer. Moreover, because of its conductivity, graphite is used as electrodes for dry-cell batteries. The use of diamond and graphite has a long history. They are composed of only carbon—even though their properties are totally different.

What is the reason of their different properties? It has a close connection with their different arrangement of carbon atoms.

Diamond has carbon atoms that are arranged tetrahedrally and so has very stable structure, which is the key of its hardness. By contrast, graphite has layered planar structure, where carbon atoms are hexagonally arranged in each layer. We can use a pencil to write down on a paper because some of the layers peel off and remains on the paper.

A group of substances where they all consist of the same element but have different atom arrangements— and so different properties with each other—is called an allotrope.

Fullerene is one of the allotropes of carbon. It was discovered in 1985 by Harold Kroto, Richard Smalley and Robert Curl who engaged in the research of interstellar matter floating in cosmic space. They were awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this discovery. Fullerene has a very unique shape and resembles a soccer ball. Each of the total 60 carbon atoms are arranged on each of the apexes like the pentagons and hexagons of a soccer ball.

Because of its shape, Fullerene has been used in the research and development of medical and pharmaceutical products and has been researched as structural materials as well. It has already been put to practical use for badminton rackets. Though it was discovered during the research on floatable interstellar substances in cosmic space, it was found in 1992 that fullerene was contained in a carbon mineral called shungite in the Republic of Karelia, Russia, which clarified its existence on Earth.

Because of the different arrangement of carbon atoms, fullerene has different properties from diamond and graphite. Among the several intrinsic properties of fullerene, one of the most characteristic properties is its “anti-oxidative potency” which is an ability to eliminate active oxygen and free radicals.

Vitamin C60 BioResearch Corporation has paid attention to the fullerene’s anti-oxidative property and has advanced the development of cosmetic ingredients containing fullerene.

Application to Cosmetic Ingredients

Common antioxidants, such as vitamin C (ascorbic acid), play the antioxidant ability by exchanging hydrogen. By contrast, fullerene is considered to have a unique anti-oxidation mechanism because of the lack of hydrogen. Although the mechanism is still under research, it has been proposed that fullerene takes electrons from reactive oxygen speices and free radicals as well as traps free radicals on its surface to make them harmless.

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Although fullerene is an extremely unique antioxidant in having a different antioxidation mechanism from common antioxidants, we still confronted some challenges for its application in cosmetic ingredients

1.Obtainment of Fullerene

Fullerene is rare in the natural world, and the use of fullerene from nature would be too costly for practical application in cosmetic ingredients. Therefore, we performed the artificial synthesis of fullerene. Although the synthesis was much more efficient than the use of natural fullerene, its conversion was still very low and so condensation was required. We succeeded in getting fullerene by condensation, but the concentrate included impurity. We needed to purify the concentrate as much as possible because impurity may affect the safety of cosmetics. We developed our own technology and succeeded in removing the impurity. We call the fullerene obtained by whole of the process “BioFullerene” which means biocompatible fullerene, and decided to use it for all of the cosmetic products.

2.Insolubleness of Fulleren 

Fullerene is a black powder that does not dissolve in water at all. On the other hand, because most cosmetics contain water, it was difficult to use the water-insoluble fullerene in cosmetics. To solve this problem, we developed our own technology and established a technique to stably disperse fullerene in water by wrapping fullerene with water-soluble polymer. The water-soluble polymer used for this technique is PVP (polyvinylpyrrolidone), which is a highly safe component that has been used for cosmetics and pharmaceuticals (mouthwash). It was the first product of our company “RadicalSponge” that was commercialized as a cosmetic ingredient by this technique. It can be easily added to the water system, which enables to use fullerene as a component in cosmetics. By the way, the product name “RadicalSponge” was named for the meaning that it absorbs free radicals like a sponge.

3.Further Requirements

Cosmetics are mostly composed of water and oil. Can fullerene be added into oil? The "LipoFullerene" was commercialized as a response to the desire. In this product, a high concentration of fullerene is stably dispersed in a cosmetic ingredient called squalane. Furthermore, another cosmetic raw material in which fullerene is dispersed in a form of neither aqueous nor oil-based is "MoistFullerene." In this, fullerene is stably dispersed in the structure called lipid bilayer membrane "liposome" constituted by hydrogenated lecithin and soybean sterols. The use of this enabled us to prepare fullerene-containing cosmetics which fit more comfortably in the skin. We have also developed white powder fulleren-containing raw material "Veil Fullerene" by putting fullerene in porus of silica. The use of this enabled us to put into make-up cosmetics since it's powder. Aiming at the application of fullerene in various cosmetic products, we are continuously developing the dispersion techniques of fullerene.

Biocompatible Type of Fullerene (Safety)

We use both cosmetics and pharmaceuticals in the hope that there will be some sort of good effect. The effect of pharmaceuticals is linked to disease treatment and life-saving so we can turn a blind eye to a few side effects. However, unlike pharmaceuticals, absolute safety is a mus since cosmetics are used daily.

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Fullerene, which was found in 1985, is a relatively new substance. In our company a variety of safety tests have been carried out to ensure the safety of fullerene.

The safety tests comply with OECD Guidelines, and make sure of safety from various viewpoints such as: in the case of eating, in the case of eye contact, in the case of being applied to the skin, and if it causes allergic reaction, etc. As a result of these tests, the fullerene was confirmed to be safe with no toxicity.

We also performed the safety tests such as a human patch test for "RadicalSponge", "LipoFullerene", "Moist Fullerene" and "Veil Fullerene" that gave negative test results and so were confirmed to be safe.

Because we have received many inquiries such as, "we are manufacturing cosmetic products for those who are suffering from sensitive skin. Can fullerene be used for people with sensitive skin?" especially in recent years, we carried out a stinging test with subjects who have sensitive skin. As a result, no one felt irritation by using "RadicalSponge" or "LipoFullerene", and it was confirmed that these can be used with safety.

Besides cosmetics, fullerene has gained much attention in other fields such as electronic materials and structural materials. Research on the development of fullerene products has been promoted all over the world. These developments are not promoted only for the purpose of using its effectiveness but also from the viewpoint of safety for people using it. For example, research has been performed with questions in mind such as, “does fullerene have carcinogenic properties in case of inhalation?” and, “is fullerene safe even if eaten every day?” According to the test results at this point, any problems such as carcinogenicity and toxicity have not been reported.

Finally, because cosmetic products formulated with fullerene have been practically used for nearly 10 years and any skin trouble caused by fullerene has not been reported, its high safety can be assured with confidence. However, the pursuit of the safety of the products has not been finished and we will keep doing data gathering and research regarding safety.

*Although the safety of fullerene has been confirmed from the results of safety tests, if you have any skin trouble by using our fullerene-containing cosmetics, please contact the manufacturer shown on the bottom of the product.