Beauty and the beast: Why the man behind a lash serum is making it his mission to beat breast cancer

It's fair to say Dr Michael Brinkehoff never intended to be a part of the beauty industry. The ophthalmologist stumbled across the game-changing RevitaLash formula in a kind of two-part accident. 

"I practised ophthalmology [in LA]  and worked with a lot of patients with glaucoma," he explained last week, in New Zealand for a few days as part of the RevitaLash breast cancer month. 

"It was very safe, with a drop in each eye for my patients a couple of times a day. There were no side effects apart from one interesting one - it causes their eyelashes to grow thick, long and dark."

As far as side effects go, it wasn't a terrible one - except, as Dr Brinkenhoff points out, for those who only had glaucoma in one eye, and were suddenly looking a little off balance. He developed a perfectly safe solution which caused the same eyelash growth without the glaucoma treatment and the first strain of Revitalash was born.

At a similar time, Dr Brinkenhoff's wife Gayle was diagnosed with severe metastatic breast cancer, meaning she had to go through chemotherapy. 

"Her hair fell out, her eyelashes fell out..she was most upset about her eyelashes," Dr Binkehoff explains. "She taught me eyelashes are very important to how you feel about yourself, to how you look in the mirror."

"I created my own formula for her - a concoction for her eyelids only. Sure enough, her eyelashes came back very quickly… within a month or six weeks. This was her reintroduction to the world," he said. 

"I thought...maybe I could sell this in my practice." 

Dr Brinkenhoff spent the next year and a half researching the steps to develop the serum, before they came out with the final product, now known across the world as RevitaLash, in 2006. 

"I think what it did is over-delivered on the promise. People were used a lot of hype but under-delivery when it came to cosmetics. We over-delivered." 

Gayle sadly passed away in July 2013, age 57. But from RevitaLash's origin, Dr Brinkehoff has made breast cancer a personal mission. The sales of the product are donated to specific cancer research, which Dr Brinkehoff vets himself. 

"Because of my medical background I didn't want to give money to a global breast cancer organisation - often it goes towards overheads and I didn't want that," he explains. 

"I identified five or six specific programmes and different universities, met with them, looked at their research facilities and said, 'ok we'd like to put money here'." 

"My goal was to get money to the projects beyond chemotherapy." 

Setting up symposiums out of a major LA research centre where his wife had major treatments, Dr Brinkehoff has met two scientists who might just change the game. 

"They found a very unique molecule that seems only to be in cancer cells….that is like a second cousin to the DNA molecule. It's essential to life, but as soon as a cancer cell becomes cancerous, this molecule changes," Dr Brinkenhoff explains. 

"They're close to going to clinical trials. [It has] very low toxicity but very high specificity just for cancer. If a cancer cell cannot replicate it dies, so by catching the cancer cell at that point through a pill or a treatment, it could be a preventive to stop reoccurrence. Or it could even kill cancer cells."

Dr Brinkenhoff says that while chemotherapy achieves great things, it's his goal to fund projects that take it past what chemo can do. 

"There will come a point I think where chemotherapy will be billed as the dark ages. We're hoping to get there quicker," he says. 

For every 'pink product' sold by RevitaLash in New Zealand this October, a months supply was able to be donated to Look Good Feel Better, resulting in 1700 units donated by the RevitaLash team earlier this month.