Branding and Scarification – Modern Body Art

scars as body art

Body modification is a global trend that’s been around since the beginning of time. Some people modify their bodies for religious reasons, and others do it for personal pleasure or purely for aesthetics. When a simple tattoo or piercing won’t satisfy your body mod needs, there are other options.

Branding and scarification are two permanent methods that are on the more extreme side of popular body mod. Just like anything else, beauty is subjective and personal; some people prefer the look and feel of scars to ink or metal. Others turn negative scars, such as those from car accidents or operations, into beautiful body art.

Branding is the burning of the epidermis with a heated piece of metal to leave a design in your skin. With branding the artist has a bit less artistic freedom (this process is used mostly for basic geometric designs). There is also a harsh smell associated with the burning process that is not pleasant for most customers. Strike branding, similar to livestock branding, uses a hot piece of metal. There is also cautery branding with a heated wire tip, laser branding with electrical sparks, and even cold branding with liquid nitrogen.

branding, cautery, and scalpeling methods

Scarification by cutting is more popular in the modern age. (This is not to be confused with self harm.) It has been practiced by many West African tribes to mark milestone stages in both men and women’s lives, such as puberty and marriage. In Ghana they use scarification to treat certain ailments such as stomach pains and the measles. In modern body modification shops, an artist will use a sterilized scalpel to essentially carve a design into your flesh. With this method they’re able to create very intricate scar designs, and the design will eventually heal into a permanent raised scar.

scarification in tribal society

The most common style of scarification is cutting.  For this all the artist needs is a scalpel and sterile blades. They use different sized and angled blades as a traditional artist would use multiple paint brushes for different effects. The initial set up is not too different from a tattoo; skin is prepped and cleaned, then the stencil is applied and approved.  A scalpel is used to outline the design with fine cuts, which feels similar to a tattoo sensation. The outlines are created mainly by cutting at the correct depth and width, which opens up the skin to get the desired result, rather than skin removal. Ink rubbing refers to scarification where tattoo ink is rubbed into the wound, and packing is a process where clay or ash is packed into the wound to create more bold, raised scars.

western style scar mods

There are some extra warnings involved with the scarification process, because it’s the only body modification that relies completely on your body’s reaction and healing. Infection control and proper aftercare methods must be practiced very closely, due to the open wound. It’s impossible to tell how each person’s scar will look once it’s healed.  Some scars will indent, some will raise, some will be very pink or red, some will be purple, and some will even be white or more subtle than originally hoped. The uncertainty and extra pain will cause some prospective scarification candidates to opt for a more controlled tattoo.

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