What Is Scarification?
Scarification, or scarifying, are words used to describe the acts or art forms of those of us that intentionally inflict wounds of different sorts to create scars on our bodies.
You're probably asking yourself, who are these crazy people and why are they undergoing such tremendous amounts of pain to create scar tissue intentionally? (Something that most people try to avoid.) Being one that has personally experimented with and enjoyed different types of scarification, I would like to further expose and share the experiences and history of this extreme and beautiful art form.
Why Would Someone Do Such a Thing?
Intentionally scarring yourself may seem like a radical practice of the mentally unstable, but I'll be the first to tell you that self-inflicted scars are more often than not a means of expression rather than a cry for attention. For centuries, people have undergone these physical transformations as a means of artistic expression, spiritual enlightenment, right of passage, and sexual-related experimentations. Throughout the past, tribal cultures and warriors have scared their bodies to signify the coming of age, puberty, sacrifice, social or military status, marriage, and spiritual or religious confirmations. Contemporary scarification practices can be for very similar reasons as those of the past, or for very different reasons altogether. Everyone is different, their reasoning for modifying their body should be looked upon with respect and an open mind.
Through my own personal experiences with scarification, I've come to discover that the physical pain itself is quite soothing when you can bring yourself to overcome it. This is something that I believe many adrenalin junkies and spiritual mystics may be able to relate to. I've also come to adore the imperfectly beautiful designs that resided as the outcome of such pain-stricken artistic processes. For some, I believe the scar can be very much like a trophy or medal to be worn with pride for the amount of pain that they had to overcome to receive it.
Here Comes the Pain!
Now that I've shared some insight on what scarification is and some of the reasons for its practice, we're going to take a look at some of the methods used to create these amazing and seemingly grotesque pieces of body art. These methods include different variations of branding, skin cutting and removal, controlled chemical burns, and abrasion.
Cutting and Skin Removal
Often confused for acts of self-harm or mutilation, skin cutting is a cosmetic way of using a razor or scalpel to cut through the layers of skin to create a pattern or design with the intention of scarring the body. Hatching and cross-hatching are implemented while cutting for shading very similar to the methods that an artist would use when creating an ink drawing.
Skin removal or peeling is a more extreme variation of skin cutting. When performing skin removal, the artist will typically outline all of the design first with a series of incisions. Once the outline is complete, the artist proceeds to remove the desired skin from the outline by peeling it back with the tip of the razor or scalpel until the skin is removed completely. Some designs can take up to hundreds of little pieces of skin to be removed to reach the desired outcome, however, in my personal experiences, the skin was lifted and removed successfully in one piece.
Wound packing is another technique seen more frequently in tribal-like cultures. This practice involves pacing the cuts full of clay or ash to encourage hypertrophic and keloid scarring. This occurs during the healing process as the body tries to force the forging matter out.
Strike branding has been utilized throughout history to mark cattle, slaves, criminals, and in this case, willing body art canvases. A strike band is achieved by heating a piece of metal until it reaches a glowing red ember, then proceeding to press the hot metal steadily against the skin to inflict a burn. Multiple strikes are often used repetitively until the desired design is complete. Metal pieces of all different shapes and sizes can be worked with when performing a strike brand. Strike branding can make it difficult to use a great deal of precision. It also can leave widespread and uneven scar tissue.
Cautery and Electrosurgical Branding
These methods of branding can be done by first using a stencil or drawing the design onto the client's skin before the procedure begins, or they can be done freehand.
A cautery brand uses a handheld thermal cautery tool to melt away the skin in the desired pattern or design.
Electrosurgical brands (otherwise known as laser brands) are performed with electrical surgical units that use electricity to actually vaporize the skin.
These methods of branding are more precise due to the greater amount of control involved during the branding process. These types of brands typically leave cleaner and more even scars.
This method of branding is the one that I find to be the most intriguing! Solar branding is the process of using the UV rays of the brightest star in our solar system to burn the skin in distinctive patterns with a magnifying glass. These burns can start off resembling thin paper-cut-like markings, and over the matter of a few days, they begin to spread and blossom into beautiful artistic patterns.
Controlled Chemical Burns and Abrasion
Abrasion can be used to create scar tissue by means of friction. Tools such as sandpaper, metal files, inkless tattoo needles, and wire brushes can be used to remove the layers of skin to create a decent scar.
A controlled chemical burn uses chemicals to deteriorate and melt away the layers of skin to create a desired scar. This method of scarification can be unstable and highly dangerous.
Does It Hurt?
If a body modification procedure looks and sounds painful, that's because it is. Plain and simple. The pain of the procedure itself isn't the only painful part of creating the scar. The healing process can be just as painful if not greater than the original pain of the wound being inflicted. It all depends on personal choices during the aftercare of the healing scar.
Like most forms of body modification, it is extremely important to maintain personal hygiene and to keep any open wounds clean to prevent infections.
The Healing Process
Methods used to heal the wound have an influence on how the scar will turn out. The faster a wound heals, the less it will scar. For this reason, many things can be done to prolong the healing process, thus increasing the overall amount of scar tissue. A wound can be left open for the air to heal them dry. When the scabs are formed, they are then removed to reopen the wound and the process is repeated. The healing process of the wounds can also be prolonged by wet healing. This is achieved by keeping the wound covered with a bandage or cellophane and keeping it moisturized. During the healing process, the wounds can also be scrubbed vigorously with brushes or rubbed with salt to stop the growth of new cells and prolong the healing process. Rubbing products such as vinegar, lemon and lime juice, and iodine tinctures directly into the open wound can also be done to encourage scarring.
Beauty of the Scars
Scarification can seem like a bizarre and over-the-top art form. With an open mind and the will to understand, a great deal of respect should be given to the artists and canvasses that participate in all of these practices. Like it or not, scarification is here to stay. Who knows, maybe someday you'll join us in this ever-evolving world of body art.
Until then, Cheers!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on February 13, 2017:
Yes, I've seen programmes about this before. Goodness, I can't imagine painful it must be though!