Research Highlight

Microcarbon in face creams harmful

doi:10.1038/nindia.2017.125 Published online 28 September 2017

Face creams containing activated "microcarbon" that many commercials promote as the magic beauty ingredient, may actually harm the skin in the long run and even cause cancer, according to a study1 by researchers at the Indian Institute of Engineering Science and Technology in Howrah, West Bengal.

Activated carbon powder (also called activated charcoal) has long been in use in the beauty industry, but its inclusion in facial creams for “getting fairer skin” is of recent origin. The researchers report that microscopic and spectroscopic analysis of samples of three popular international brands revealed the presence of nanosized particles called reduced graphene oxide (rGO) in the microcarbon used in the creams.

The rGO normally remains dormant but gets activated by oxygen in the air to generate reactive oxygen species (ROS) that is toxic to the skin, their report says. To study the toxic effect, the scientists incubated adult human skin cells (HaCaT) with rGO dilutions for 12 hours under a 200-Watt light source that mimicked sunlight.

They found that the active microcarbon used in these face creams had enough graphene material, like rGO, with high cytotoxic effect. The know common effects of ROS are cancer, cell proliferation and aging, the researchers say.


1. Maity, S. et al. Microcarbon-based facial creams activate aerial oxygen under light to reactive oxygen species damaging cell. Appl. Nanosci. (2017) doi: 10.1007/s13204-017-0604-9