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Antioxidant properties of fullerene is something like unknown possibility

What is fullerene?

Fullerene, which has been recently discovered, is carbon allotropes*1, which has created a great sensation in chemistry circle. It is also the generic chemical name of a polyhedron including 60 carbon atoms (C60). The diameter of a C60 fullerene is 0.7 nanometers*2 and it resembles a football.
It was discovered in 1985. Fullerene exploded the accepted concept that molecules consisting of carbon only are two types of substances, diamond and graphite. Three fullerene discoverers*3, two Americans and one British researcher, won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996. It is Mitsubishi Corporation that had a head start in paying attention to features of fullerene and established two firms. One is a firm which has been established together with Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation in 2001 for the purpose of commercializing fullerene in industrial field and aims to put organic thin film solar cells called as the next generation solar cells into practical use. Another one is Vitamin C60 BioResearch Corporation established in 2003. The company is engaged in research, development and commercialization of fullerene in the life-science field. The company now supplies a fullerene-based cosmetic ingredient making good use of “antioxidant properties” of the substance. I asked Mr. Gentaro Hayashi, Chief Executive Officer of the company and Mr.Masayuki Ito, researcher about the features and possibility of fullerene.

Development of fullerene-based cosmetic ingredient

Could you tell me why you name the company Vitamin C60 BioResearch Corporation?

Gentaro Hayashi:C of this Vitamin C60 is derived both from vitamin C and fullerene C60. The name expresses our wish that fullerene will be a renowned antioxidant ingredient like vitamin C. Fullerene has also antioxidant properties which protect oxidation by reactive oxygen species like vitamin C. When comparing antioxidant properties between fullerene and vitamin C, it has been demonstrated that fullerene has antioxidant effects 125, 172 or 250 times greater than vitamin C although the values vary according to the test method.

antioxidant effects of fullerene

Masayuki Ito:It has been found recently that fullerene also exists naturally in high-quality India ink and high-grade charcoal. However, as it is a trace amount of fullerene, it is difficult to commercialize it although it can be extracted. Thus, we have employed an extraction method for producing fullerene as follows: apply strong energy to carbon under the special conditions in order to break down its molecular structure; and then reconstruct it. This method enables us to create fullerene although it is a trace amount of it. It may be similar to diamond because it is naturally formed only under the special high pressure conditions.

Is fullerene used in solar cell the same as that used for cosmetics?

Hayashi:Their specifications substantially vary. As fullerene used for cosmetics is intended for the use of human body, impurities are completely removed.
Ito:The appearance of fullerene itself is just black powder. It has been found that fullerene has antioxidant effects. The problem is that it is insoluble in water. Then, we decided to enwrap fullerene with water-soluble polymer, polyvinylpyrrolidone(PVP) in order to disperse it into water. This is the first product of fullerene called as RadicalSponge®. Thanks to Radical Sponge®, it becomes possible to confirm its effects by cell experiments or on the skin. In addition, by improving its safety and stability, fullerene can now be widely applied in the field of cosmetics.
Hayashi:We established the company in 2003 and RadicalSpongeR became commercially available in 2005, which means that it took two years or longer to develop the product.

   
High antioxidant effects of fullerene

I guess that you have difficulty in getting understanding of fullerene in people as it is a ovel material.

Hayashi:As it is a brand new substance, it is a kind of an absurd idea to promote the application of fullerene as a cosmetic ingredient in an objective way. The most asked question is its safety. Even if it has high antioxidant properties, it matters a if it causes skin problem by applying it to the skin. Thus, we spent a lot of time and money to evaluate its safety under various conditions.
Physicians are the first persons who showed an interest in the substance. Physicians use fullerene as an ingredient in the so-called cosmeceutical products in order to sell to patients who visit the clinic or use for the purpose of preventing skin problem in patients undergoing laser treatment for the purpose of obtaining beautiful skin. The number of such physicians is increasing. We think that physicians realize that fullerene is highly effective and safe in clinical practice. After that, retail companies or mail-order companies began to use it. Happily, we have received voices from a lot of consumers saying that it is effective.

What effects does it exert?

Ito:We received the different types of feedback, “It makes my skin more transparent”, “My acne started to disappear”, “My wrinkles have gone”, “Skin pores become less noticeable”. In order to verify these effects one by one, we asked university researchers for help. Most common causes for skin problems are reactive oxygen species which are necessary to defend the body against foreign enemies, while excessive reactive oxygen species cause skin problems. When reactive oxygen species generated in skin by UV irradiation induce the formation of melanin, it causes darkening of the skin; if you do not do anything against it, they cause dark spots. Also, they destroy collagen leading to wrinkles and sagging skin. It is antioxidants that fight against these types of skin problems. Fullerene with high antioxidant properties has been demonstrated to have skin brightening effect by clinical experiments on the skin.

 

Examples of antioxidants include vitamins C and E. What is fullerene different from them?

Ito:The antioxidant properties of fullerene are characterized by “strong and sustained antioxidant activities”. An experiment we conducted showed that it exerted antioxidant activities more than for 24 hours. Also, vitamins C and E are easily destroyed by sunlight. However, it has been confirmed that fullerene is resistant to sunlight and that it exerts antioxidant properties under a variety of conditions.
Hayashi:Fullerene is characterized mostly by its strong and sustained antioxidant activities and resistance to various reactive oxygen species, especially UV-induced reactive oxygen species.

Fullerene which prepares a suitable scalp environment for nurturing healthy hair

Is fullerene also effective for hair growth?

Ito:We got cooperation from Dr. Shigeki Inui of Osaka University in conducting these experiments. 16 men were included in the experiment and were asked to apply either tonic lotion containing 2% fullerene (Radical Sponge®) or tonic lotion containing no fullerene to the upper part of the ear for 24 weeks (6 months). They were not told which one they received. Regarding hair growth products, most of people using it tend to stop using if it does not work quickly. To tell you the truth, it takes at least 6 months for fullerene to exert its effects. When analyzing the study result at 6 months later, the hair was growing 1.16 times faster.

What do you interpret the result?

Ito:It is certain that its antioxidant properties had a positive impact on the hair growth rate. For example, it is yet unknown whether fullerene reaches dermal papilla cells, while fullerene has an effect of protecting cells from reactive oxygen species. Thus, there is a possibility that fullerene contributes to hair growth by protecting cells in the hair follicle.
Hayashi:It can be said that its antioxidant activities help improve the scalp conditions and change the hair growing cycle. The scalp is exposed to substantial oxidative stress because it is exposed to sun’s UV rays. The scalp gets closer to what it should be as fullerene, antioxidant, can ameliorate oxidative stress.

  

We can expect greater hair growth effects by combining fullerene with some other treatment, can’t we?

Hayashi:Yes, you can. We also have data showing that other ingredients do not get oxidized and can exert their effects sufficiently thanks to fullerene’s effect of preventing oxidation. As you know, fullerene is still a new material. We continue to research the material. Also, many researches of research institutes and universities worldwide strive for research on fullerene. We look forward to seeing new research results in the future.

Interviewer/writer: Akiyoshi Sato Photographer: Kuninobu Akutsu

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