What Is Scarification?

Scarification by branding

The ancient practice of scarification is regaining popularity in the modern world of body art. Once tattooing and piercing became popular and more accepted, it was only a matter of time until people got interested in the more traditional body modification arts. Scarring has a deep history and a pedigree that makes it both interesting and more unusual than other types of body modifications.

Types of Body Scarring

Scarification, the practice of purposely scarring skin tissue to leave permanent marks, is a very ancient practice that reaches back to the earliest stages of the human race. This form of body modification has been used in ancient rituals as a rite of passage into adulthood and also as a sign of status and beauty. Historically, being able to withstand the pain of the process was taken as a sign of great physical and spiritual strength. Warriors also received sacred scars to identify them with their tribe, and many bearers also believed these markings had spiritual powers to protect them in battle.

Today, scarring the body is again on the upsurge, practiced as a form of personal expression along with other body arts, such as piercing and tattooing. There are a variety of options for people to choose from in order to attain the level of body scarring they desire. Modern sterilization technology and good after care information assures body art lovers a reliable degree of protection from infection, improper scarring and pain.


Body branding usually involves striking the skin with specifically-shaped hot metal to form patterns. Like most body scarification techniques, the degree of risk involved with branding makes proper aftercare crucial.

The methods used to brand skin include:

  • Hot branding: This method involves heating an iron that will be pressed firmly against the flesh to sear in an image or message.
  • Cold branding: Similar to hot branding, the cold method uses an iron dipped in liquid nitrogen before being applied to the flesh.
  • Electro-cauterization: This branding method produces very fine results. Lasers are able to cut very delicate lines to create intricate patterns.


Body scars

Body cutting is one of the most common ways to create permanent scars. The process involves making precision cuts in the skin with a scalpel or other surgical grade instrument to create a redesigned pattern or shape. The wound may be cut more than once, depending on the final depth of scarring desired. The deeper the scar, the bolder the resulting mark.

Keep in mind that cutting is also a term used in the medical field to describe a form of self-abuse. This is different than cutting as a means of body modification. Cutting as scarification is generally practiced as a means of achieving a personal goal, whether that goal is art or marking a life event.

Skin Removal or Peeling

Skin peeling is also a common form of body scarification. The practitioner uses surgical scalpels to slice away and remove sections of skin with the aim of creating a sometimes detailed design on the body. For best results, artists typically remove only a minimal amount of skin while stressing the importance of good aftercare to maintain both skin health and design integrity.

Additional Methods

For body art lovers who like to push even further out of the box, alternative methods of body scarification do exist. Other ways to define your individuality by scarring the skin include:

  • Tattoo Machine: This method includes etching or abrading the skin with an sinless tattoo machine to form a pattern or design.
  • Injection: This is a risky process that involves injecting noxious chemicals just under the skin to create random scar designs.
  • Abrasive: The artist grinds away areas of skin with a rotary tool to form precision patterns.

Scar Enhancement

Any type of scarring can be enhanced by lightly rubbing tattoo ink into the fresh wounds. Another method for enhancing a scar is to rub ashes into the completed cuts to impart color to the scars. Enhancement should only be done by a professional who knows how to prevent infection from setting into the scars using these methods.

Scarification Reasons

Some view scarring as art while others view the practice as barbarism. To the person choosing to be scarred, both the practice and the result can have deep significance.

Ultimate Challenge

For those seeking to push themselves to the limits, enduring the pain of scarring presents one of the ultimate challenges in life. Once the veil of fear and pain has been passed through, the bearer often feels euphoric and invincible to the daily rigors of life. How can anything else compare to the intense physical test just experienced?

Memorial or Tribute

Others choose scarring as a means to memorialize a significant life event, such as a birth or a death. And then there are people who simply find scarring attractive and appreciate the artistry involved to create lasting patterns in flesh. It can be an alternative to standard tattooing or a complementary practice. Scarification provides more visible results on dark skin tones than standard tattoo inks.

Scar Aftercare

After scarring, it is very important to take proper care of the wounds.Proper care and disinfection will lower the risk of infection and by protecting the scars, you will get a better final result.

Some aftercare do's and don'ts include:


  • Wash the area four to five times a day gently with antibacterial soap.
  • Follow up with a peroxide rinse to kill more germs and further irritate the skin so good visible scars will form.
  • Pat the area dry with disposable paper towels.
  • Apply petroleum jelly to the scars, always moving with the grooves, not across them.
  • Keep the area bandaged and covered.


  • Scrub or rub your scars. This will only blur the lines, resulting in a less distinct pattern.
  • Leave the same bandage on all day. Instead, apply fresh a fresh bandage or cellophane after each washing.

It will take about three weeks for the area to fully scab over, with complete healing usually occurring around five to six weeks.

Use Only Licensed Practitioners

To be as safe as possible, scarring should only be performed by a licensed professional body artist, who can usually be found through your local tattoo shop. All the same sanitary procedures should be observed as for tattooing to prevent the spread of blood borne diseases such as hepatitis and HIV. All surfaces should be freshly disinfected and all tools should be freshly removed from sealed autoclave bags. Your practitioner/artist should wash thoroughly immediately before getting started and wear gloves and a surgical mask during the procedure.

Choosing to Scar

No matter what a person's motivation is, scarring is an intense experience and not for the faint of heart. If the opportunity arises, watch someone else being scarred first to make sure you're ready to handle the experience yourself.

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What Is Scarification?