Scarification is a term that is used to describe the act of scarifying. Scarifying involves scratching, etching, or some sort of superficial cutting or incision as a form of permanent body modification, akin to tattooing. In scarification, scars are formed by cutting or burning the skin in a pattern. The scars formed are generally simplified patterns, as the scarring is highly variable from person to person. The healing process makes the markings unpredictable, as well as skin color and the individual being worked on.

Scarification has been used as a rite of passage in adolescence, or to denote the emotional state of the wearer of the scars, such as times of sorrow or well-being. This is common among Australian Aboriginal and Sepik River tribes in New Guinea, amongst others.

Traditional Scarification by Tribes

(Traditional Scarification by Tribes)

Strike-branding is, in essence, the same as branding an animal. A piece of metal is heated and the brand is struck by pressing the metal to the skin. Customized pieces are usually not made by this method, the pattern instead being drawn with a single straight peice of metal. Cautery branding, although less common, is akin to strike branding but rather than a peice of heated metal a device similary to a cautery iron is used to draw the pattern onto the skin and cause the burns. Branding was historically used on humans during the slave trade, but could also be seen on criminals, usually with the brand being visible and often letter-coded to reflect the crime.

Strike Branding

(Human Strike Branding)

Laser branding, as well, is used. The technical term for this type of scarification is electrocautery branding which involves a device akin to an arc welder. This method creates a spark of electricity which burns the skin, and because of the ability to control the depth of the cut and the severity of the skin damage it is a more precise method, allowing for more complex designs.

Rarer but still practiced is Cold branding. This method is similar to strike branding, except for the fact that, rather than heat, the tool used is subjected to extreme cold (often employed for this purpose is liquid nitrogen). This process causes the hair to grow back white and rarely results in the appearance of keloids (a fiberous growth resulting from skin damage).

Another method of scarification used is cutting. Along with the development of scars from this act, there are several other methods of body modification associated with this practice. First is ink-rubbing, in which tattoo ink is rubbed into the fresh cuts and remains after the cut has healed. The results most often resemble a home made tattoo, seemingly poorly done work.

Skinning is also used, to effect a larger area of scar tissue. This process involves cutting an outline of the area to be removed into the skin, then peeling away the freshly lacerated flesh. The texture of the scars is often inconsistant with this process, but it makes a considerabley larger scar and therefore allows for more sizable portions of pattern to be created.

Scarification Hand

(A Scarification Hand Imprint)

Packing is used, though rarely in the western world, as yet another method of scarification. In packing, incisions are made in the skin and materials such as ash or clay are inserted beneath the skin to create intentional “bumps”. Immense keloids are formed as a result during the healing process because of the body attempting to force the foreign material out of the dermis. Materials such as cigar ash, or on occassions the ashes of deceased loved ones, are used most commonly in the United States.

Abrasion is yet another means of scarification. The resulting scars from this process can be acheived by abraiding the skin with needles, sand paper, or a tattooing machine without ink. This is a relatively unsafe method, and employing it is often not recommended. Many people use this as a home grown scarification method, rubbing away the skin by way of a pin or needle. Chemical abrasion can also be used, it’s results identical to other methods of scarification. Corrisives are used to damage the dermis and induce scarring with this method.

Scarification by a Tattoo Gun

(Scarification by a Tattoo Gun)


In order to create more pronounced scarring, the duration of healing must be controlled. The longer a wound is open and healing the more pronounced the scar will be. Therefore, there are several methods to obtain the desired effect. One such means is to abraid the skin, rubbing away scabs as they form. Chemical irritants can also be used, ranging from the most simple (such as citrus juice) to iodine (which has been proven to induce scarring).

Caution must be used with these methods, because though the wound can, if properly worked with, take months to heal the scarring may be inconsistant. Simply letting the wound heal will not make for a more pronounced scar, but it greatly reduces the pain involved in the healing process as well as the risk of infection.

There are risks involved in the process of scarification as well. Most importantly, infection can and often does occur with this process. Having an open wound is, as common sense dictates, risky because of germs being granted the ability to get beneath the dermis.

It is not at all uncommon for local infections to occur around the area of the modification, but this can be prevented by anti-bacterial soaps and solutions. In addition, the artist must have a good knowledge of anatomy in order to prevent damage or undesired scarring due to cutting too deep, having the device used either too hot or too cold, or burning the area for too long.

Tattooing is far more common than scarification, so finding an experienced scarification artist is difficult. Caution should be used when selecting an artist for this reason. A rarer complication involved is the risk of disease being passed through the air. More often than not, artists wear masks in order to prevent this, as various diseases can be passed into the air by way of the fumes from the skin being burned.

Scarification is a considerably more painful process than ordinary tattooing, and it is for this reason that many people chose to have it done. The extreme pain involved can cause euphoric highs in the individual being scarred.

Aside from that, scarification is relatively rare and therefore unique. Those who want to “do something different” often find their way to this method of body modification, as it does tend to turn a few heads. It can be a point of pride for many people to retell the tail of the painful process by which they came by their patterned scars.

Watch a video about Scarification