Ilan Zakai (Source: Rambam Health Care Campus)

At a Hanukkah party 37 years ago, a Jewish family in Tiberius was preparing the traditional latkes (potato pancakes) for the holiday. Three year old Ilan Zakai climbed onto a stool and reached unto the pan with the hot oil that was frying the latkes. Unfortunately, the pan with the boiling oil flipped over and fell on Ilan, severely burning his face and neck. Ilan was immediately rushed to the hospital and over a period of four months, underwent numerous surgeries. The whole experience sunk the young boy into a depression.

According to Ilan, “It was hard for me to leave the house because I was afraid that people would look at me. My mother encouraged me to go out and not to be reclusive, but it was tough. The scars were hard for me, and I was always searching for plastic surgical solutions to blur them.” Yet Ilan being inquisitive in finding a solution to his problem led him to visit Prof. Yehuda Ullmann, Director of the Department of Plastic Surgery at Rambam Health Care Campus, to inquire about possible innovations in the field of burn treatments. It was Prof. Ullmann who mentioned the idea of utilizing makeup to conceal scars.

From then on, Ilan was determined to find the right cosmetic formula for his scars. Ilan related, “During my experiments with cosmetics, I came to realize that using makeup in the usual way would not bring results and that I must learn to apply makeup professionally.” Ilan learned from reactions he got from people in the street when he had found the perfect method to conceal his burns. Prof. Ullmann was very impressed with Ilan’s success in formulating cosmetic techniques and asked Ilan if he would like to assist other patients who had gone through similar experiences. Ilan agreed.

Today, Ilan is married and is working as a professional cosmetic artist, for theaters, for television, for commercials, and also does makeup workshops in the Department of Plastic Surgery at Rambam Health Care Campus. His scars are barely recognizable. Many burn victims have been helped by his cosmetic strategy. According to Ilan, “I do this with an inner feeling of mission. I’m particularly happy when I succeed in helping them overcome their loss of confidence and give them courage to leave the house without feelings of inferiority.”

One of the participants in Ilan’s many makeup workshops is Irit, whose body and face were burned in a big explosion that occurred as she was refueling her car at a gas station. According to Irit, “Part of my rehabilitation process was meeting with Ilan, who made me up once individually and once in the workshop in front of the rest of the participants. It’s physically difficult for me to put on makeup because of the burns, so my daughter, who attended my private lesson, is the one who applies my makeup. For the most part, I use cosmetics when I must go out for events, and the feeling afterward is beautiful. When people see me with makeup, they compliment me and mention that I look better than the last time they saw me. I ‘live my scars,’ so it does me good to receive encouragement.”

In another case, a young girl’s face was so badly burned that her facial features were wiped out and she was left without facial features. Ilan succeeded to help her as well. According to Ilan, “By means of cosmetics, I was able to give her back her facial features; I reconstructed her lips and cheekbones and improved her appearance. Such cases cause me to feel that I have succeeded in transforming people’s lives and have contributed to them, and my feeling of satisfaction is very great.”

To learn more, please watch the video below!

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