Scarification involves cutting, burning, or branding words or images into the skin in order to make the resulting scar a permanent body modification. Sort of like a tattoo on steroids!

In order to prevent scarification tools from cutting too deep, burning at too high a temperature, or burning too long, the scarification artist should have a thorough knowledge of human skin anatomy. And, because it’s possible that diseases can be passed into the air during the procedure, additional precautions, such as wearing masks, need to be incorporated into the process.

In general, the longer it takes for the healing of a wound, the more prominent the scar. The idea is to keep the wound open for as long as possible. This is accomplished by scrapping off scabs and irritating the wound with natural or chemical irritants such as citrus juice or toothpaste. Tincture of iodine is used by some practitioners because it has been shown to increase the scarring (which is why iodine is no longer used for treating wounds). Employing this method causes the wound to take months to heal. However, it can take as long as 6 to 12 months to completely heal a brand.

The following is a comprehensive list of various scarification techniques.

Strike Branding

  • As when branding livestock, a piece of metal gets heated and then pressed onto the skin. It is not a precise technique and tends to spread a great deal upon healing; it’s also not advisable for areas of the body that are curved. A multi-strike brand is more precise because it’s performed using separate pieces. For example, to create a V-shaped brand, 2 lines are burned individually using a single straight piece of metal, rather than by a piece of metal in the shape of a “V.”

Cold branding

  • This rare method is performed just like strike branding, except that the branding tool is cooled to a very low temperature using liquid nitrogen, rather than employing extreme heat. Cold branding causes the hair to grow back white; it also has the benefit of not creating keloids.

Cutting

  • A surgical scalpel is typically used to cut into the skin. One popular cutting technique is called ink rubbing, where tattoo ink (or a different coloring agent) is rubbed into the fresh wound. As the cut heals, most of the ink remains in the skin, providing the same basic effect as a tattoo.

Cautery Branding

  • Uses a thermal cautery tool tipped with a heated wire to create the burns that will turn into scars. This form of branding is not very common.

LaserBranding

  • Also known as electrosurgical branding. Uses an electrosurgical unit to cut and cauterize the skin, similar to arc welding. Sparks jump from the device to the skin, causing it to vaporize. More precision can be attained because it is possible to accurately regulate the depth and nature of the damage to the skin (versus traditional branding, where heat is transferred to the tissues, thereby burning and damaging them). The skin so vaporized so quickly that almost no damage occurs to the surrounding skin. Therefore, pain and healing time are lessened greatly.

Skin Removal, or Skinning

  • Using single-line cuts, areas of skin to be removed are sliced and peeled off. This method causes scars that often have a varying texture, which requires an experienced scarification artist and strict aftercare of the wound.

Packing

  • Traditionally used in Africa (and uncommon in the West), a diagonal cut is made and an inert material such as ash or clay is packed into the wound to induce massive hypertrophic scars, which are created when the wound pushes out the inserted substance during healing. Cigar ash is used for more raised and purple scars; some people desire ashes of deceased loved ones.

Hatching

  • Uses a sterile surgical scalpel to cut into the skin with a technique similar to sketching. Useful when a large area is required to be scarred as well as for smaller, more detailed designs, enabling shading to be used.

Abrasion

  • Scars are formed by removing layers of skin using an inkless tattooing device, or any object that can remove skin through friction, such as sandpaper.

Chemical Scarification

  • Uses corrosive chemicals to remove skin and induce scarring.

Electrocautery

  • Uses a thermo cautery unit that heats up to about 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, creating an instant third-degree burn. More intricate designs are capable with this method, and curved lines are easier to execute.

Electrosurgery

  • Similar to electrocautery; uses a device that passes electrical current directly through the patient’s skin to, in effect, burn the skin. Also referred to as hyfrecator branding.

Moxabustion

  • Involves placing incense on the skin and allowing it to burn until extinguished in the flesh.