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Sharon Gnatt Epel and son Aaron


How My Son's 2nd Degree Burns Inspired the Creation of a Therapeutic-Grade Skin Care Line for Women.  

In June of 2005, I waved good-bye to my son and watched him board a plane to Costa Rica for an exciting 6-week summer rainforest program.

We had visited Costa Rica as a family when he was in grade school; now that he was 17 he was eager to go back and explore it in greater depth with his peers. The base camp was something straight out of National Geographic: a group of minimalist huts with no amenities, located deep in the rainforest, about 2 hours away from accessible roads, vehicles and "civilization".

After a few days of group orientation the campers were taken white water rafting along the border of Panama. A heavy overnight rain had saturated the soil, causing runoff from local area fruit plantations. Unbeknownst to the campers, highly toxic agricultural chemicals were being used by these banana and pineapple growers, and the chemicals had seeped through the soil and made their way into the river. There they sat undetected on the waters' surface like an invisible oil slick. Among these chemicals was paraquat: a quick acting herbicide that is rain-fast and highly toxic to human beings and animals.

Paraquat is the number one cause of pesticide poisoning in Costa Rica. It is on the World Health Organization’s “Dirty Dozen”: a list of some of the most dangerous chemicals on the planet. It is banned in the EU, Switzerland, Scandinavia and a handful of other nations. In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified paraquat as possibly carcinogenic for human beings. Since 2002, "Stop Paraquat", a citizens' action coalition, has been demanding that this highly toxic herbicide be universally banned. Paraquat poisoning can cause damage to the skin ranging from reddening and blistering to severe burns. It has been implicated in Parkinson’s disease and brain damage. In worst case scenarios, absorption of paraquat through the skin or via inhalation can lead to lung damage and death. If accidentally swallowed, it can also cause heart failure, esophageal holes, kidney and liver failure, seizures and coma. If it comes into direct contact with the eyes it can cause blindness. There is no known antidote to or effective treatment for poisoning from this product. After exposure, symptoms do not always manifest immediately: they can appear days or weeks after contact and persist indefinitely.

My son Aaron and his fellow campers waded into the river where they came into direct contact with the pesticide-laden waters. Within 2 hours of exposure, small blisters had already formed on his skin. The photographs posted on this site are of his hands only, but several other areas of his body were affected as well. Please note: these pictures are graphic and can be quite unpleasant to look at, so do not click on the links if you are squeamish. Here is his left hand, and here is his right hand. Six hours later, the tiny blisters had grown so large that they hung over the sides of his hands like heavy water balloons. Here is My son's left hand six hours later and His right hand six hours later. 

I received a phone call from one of the camp's group leaders telling me that Aaron was having a ‘minor allergic reaction’ that they felt I should know about. They blamed it on the sunscreen he had used earlier in the day. Their description made this sound highly unlikely to me and I insisted on speaking directly with my son. Aaron told me that the blisters were incredibly painful and still getting larger, so I insisted upon immediate medical intervention – not an easy request to fulfill given the remote location of the camp. Several staff members accompanied Aaron on the long journey by foot from the base camp deep in the rainforest to the main road where they were able to find transportation to the hospital in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. There, a surgeon diagnosed my son with 2nd and 3rd degree burns. She cut open the huge blisters, removed the dead, hanging skin, administered oral antibiotics and applied a petroleum-based burn ointment to the gray, bloodless areas where the skin had been cut away. The wounds needed to be kept clean to avoid infection, the bandages changed frequently and ointments applied regularly - something that would have been almost impossible to carry out while living in a dirt hut on the rainforest floor - so I insisted that my son be sent home.

While I waited for Aaron to arrive, I consulted several physicians for guidance. The general consensus was that the burns were of unknown origin, and that traditional burn therapies, however good at preventing infection, would leave my boy scarred for life and his dexterity impeded by thick, inflexible scar tissue on his knuckles, knees and joints. Only one of the five doctors - who specialized in integrative medicine - was reasonably certain that the burns were caused by toxic chemicals, something he had seen firsthand during his extensive medical career with the U.S. Army. He suggested using clinical essential oils to treat the burns: these natural concentrated plant extracts were substances that I had never heard of before. Aaron wanted to go ahead with this course of treatment mainly because we knew what the alternative was - and we both felt there was nothing to lose by trying it. The decision to use essential oils was a difficult one to make and a huge leap of faith, but one that paid off better than we could ever have imagined.

We took pictures to document my son's treatment and recovery. When Aaron first returned from Costa Rica wrapped up like a mummy, the skin underneath the bandages was gray in color, dull and unreflective like cadaver skin. I was surprised to see that there was no surface blood at all. After 3 weeks of applying a few drops of essential oils to his burns only twice a day, blood flow was restored to the injured areas. Although it certainly didn't look very pretty at the time, we were assured that the bleeding skin was a good sign and an indication that healing was underway. You can see pictures of his left hand: and his right hand here.

One short month later, only a redness remained on the skin marking the area where the injury had been. Here are pictures of his left hand and his right hand. 

In the end, the entire healing process took approximately four months from start to finish. This was nothing short of miraculous. Here are some unretouched pictures of Aaron's hands after the therapy had been completed. I've posted two views of his left hand, the first one here, the second one here plus a picture of his right hand. I personally took these pictures outdoors in bright sunlight so that every little imperfection would be visible. You can see that both hands are fully healed. There is no residual scarring whatsoever. None of Aaron's finger or joint movements are hampered by scar tissue. His fair skin is soft and supple, the pigment uniform and the natural color fully restored. 

Nothing other than essential oils was ever used on his skin. The pictures you've seen here were submitted to the American Medical Association to document this impressive recovery. They are a testament to the expert knowledge and care of our wonderful doctor, Raphael D’Angelo, M.D., and were recently included in a comprehensive textbook written by Robert Tisserand - one of the world's leading authorities on aromatherapy and essential oils.

By the way, the leader of the rafting expedition eventually admitted that the camp had known about the toxic chemicals in the river for some time, but swore that he would deny it if ever forced to testify in court. I agreed not to litigate in return for details about the chemicals that my son had been exposed to. Several years later, one of the larger fruit plantations in the area was sued by its workers. They won the case and were awarded financial restitution, but unfortunately it came too late for many of them who were already blind, sterile and cancer ridden after years of daily exposure to paraquat.

Aaron's harrowing ordeal jolted me into a sudden awareness of the toxins lurking in our environment, and taught me that what you don't know can still hurt you. As we continue to hear about everyday ingredients that are linked to cancer and other serious, life-threatening illnesses, it is more important than ever to take a proactive role in our health by examining the products we use and voting for or against them in the marketplace with our pocketbooks.

For me this meant going back to school and educating myself about essential oils and how they can be used to treat a variety of skin issues. As someone who grew up near the beach and spent a great deal of time in the sun, I wondered what effect these oils could have on skin like mine that was showing signs of cumulative sun damage: wrinkles, age spots and reduced elasticity. After three years of intense research, product development, and extensive testing, I introduced La Ishá High Performance Natural Skin Care to the public. We made our debut with only 2 products: Breast SOS - our flagship product and our Pomegranate Moisture Booster. We now have a complete line of age-defying skin care and aromatherapy products for professional and home use.

As a small but influential company we are proud to be setting new standards for the beauty industry. By combining eco-friendly, sustainable practices with safe organic ingredients that support good health, we are able to achieve visually stunning results without using cheap synthetics, fillers, artificial colors, chemical fragrances, phthalates, parabens, sulfates, petroleum derivatives, or known cancer-causing agents.

Now in my mid-sixties, I have been using La Ishá for 7 years and am living proof of the efficacy of our products. I invite you to try La Ishá and experience the benefits for yourself. We have taken the guesswork out of using essential oils safely to achieve long lasting results and skin that glows with healthy, youthful vitality. 

By the way, every one of our products has a variety of uses that are determined by the method of application. We are happy to guide you in creating a customized routine to best suit your specific needs, free of charge.

May you enjoy the blessings of good health and timeless beauty always!

Sharon Gnatt Epel
Founder/CEO La Ishá Inc.

La Ishá - because no woman should have to endanger her health to look and feel beautiful.

Essential. Effective. Empowering


Before and After Photos of Aaron's Hands

Aaron's Left Hand 2 Hours After Contamination

Small blisters start forming on Aaron's left hand a couple of hours after initial contact with the contaminated water. June 2005

Aaron's Right Hand 2 Hours After Contamination

Small blisters start forming on Aaron's left hand a couple of hours after initial contact with the contaminated water. June 2005

Aaron's Left Hand 6 Hours After Contamination

Enormous blisters on Aaron's left hand six hours after initial contact with the contaminated water.

Aaron's Right Hand 6 Hours After Contamination

Enormous blisters on Aaron's left hand six hours after initial contact with the contaminated water.

Aaron's Left Hand Three Weeks Later

Blood flow returns to Aaron's hand three weeks after starting Essential Oil Therapy.

Aaron's Right Hand Three Weeks Later

Blood flow returns to Aaron's hand three weeks after starting Essential Oil Therapy.

Aaron's Left hand 23 days later

Aaron's left hand is almost completely healed only 23 days later.

Aaron's Left right 23 days later

Aaron's right hand is almost completely healed only 23 days later.

Aaron's Clear Left Hand

Aaron's left hand is now completely healed with no sign of previous trauma or residual scarring.

Aaron's Clear Right Hand

Aaron's right hand is now completely healed with no sign of previous trauma or residual scarring.