What Is Branding?
If you've ever watched an old Western movie and seen the cattle markings, then you are already familiar with one form of branding. At its most basic, branding involves heating a design element and placing it on the skin. This results in third-degree burns and nerve death to the area. After the area heals, the scar tissue reveals the desired design. Today there are two methods commonly used to achieve this result.
In striking, the artist bends a bit of metal into the proper shape and heats it with a torch. The heated metal is carefully and quickly placed next to the skin in a "strike." Each design, no matter how small, requires multiple strikes.
This more advanced method of branding uses a cautery pen. A hot scalpel is used to trace over a design, much the same way a tattoo gun goes over an outline. While this method still relies on painful third-degree burns to the skin, it is more precise and often results in more delicate lines.
Although the cautery method can create much more complicated designs, there are some distinct disadvantages to this technology:
- Many people feel the designs are too clean and have lost their primal edge.
- This method is much more painful than striking.
- The extreme stench of burning flesh bothers some people.
Any time you burn flesh, there is a possibility of side effects, including:
- Permanent loss of sensation in the area
- Allergic reaction to the metal
- Cardiac arrest (This is a rare side effect and is related to branding by untrained individuals.)
Decreasing the Risks
Risks can be greatly diminished by using a qualified brander. Branding is a skill and requires specialized training. It is extremely dangerous for those without training to attempt branding. Severe and deep burning can result from amateur scarification.Risks of infection can also be reduced by proper aftercare. In an effort to create more visible scarring, many branded people will repeatedly peel the scabs off. This prevents quick healing and leaves the wound open to infection. The prolonged healing sometimes results in a raised scar. While this may be aesthetically pleasing, it carries a high risk of severe infection. Proper aftercare involves:
- For the first 48 hours, rub the wound with an aloe-based gel.
- Clean the wound twice a day with a pure soap or antiseptic.
- Rinse the wound with plain water.
- Gently pat dry with cotton or a clean towel.
- If desired, wrap the wound until it has stopped oozing.
- Keep the wound clean and dry until it has completely scabbed over.
Why Get Branded?
Admittedly, this particular fashion sounds bizarre. For those who wear brands, however, the reasons make perfect sense.
Not a Tattoo Candidate
Many people of African origin are not good candidates for tattoos. Skin with extremely dark pigment just doesn't show ink. For certain dark-skinned individuals, burning, cutting and piercing are the only viable options.
Link to the Past
Decorative burning has very graphic origins in the tribes of Africa. For many tribes, extreme body modifications signified a rite of passage. Once a person could withstand the pain of burning skin, he had officially left childhood behind. Body burning was also considered a sign of beauty. Women with scarred chests were particularly prized.
Later, slaves were branded to show ownership. Slaves were often marked in multiple locations, for easier capture in case of escape.
Today, branding is a way for people to pay homage to tribal ancestors.
Still others use brands as an initiation in a club, group or gang. The ability to endure the pain is seen as a final test for prospective members. Some college fraternities use scarification in their top-secret hazing rituals.
Scarification is fairly common in the DSM world. Players of sadomasochistic games will often use brands as a sign of ownership. It is not unusual for the dominant party to subject his or her servant to painful burning. A true masochist derives intense pleasure from the excruciating pain.
Proceed With Caution
Branding may be slowly gaining traction in the world of body art, but the risks are still significant. It is much easier to alter or even remove a tattoo than it is to alter a brand, so be sure of your design well ahead of time. Always research the technician doing the branding, and ensure they are certified in the trade. Creating the strike irons and wielding a cautery pen require more skills than simply applying heat to the skin. Approach your new brand with care and ensure it gives you the look you've been after.