Scarification is the scratching, etching, burning/branding, or superficially cutting  designs, pictures or words into the skin permanently. This process causes the skin to scar where the designs, pictures, etc have been cut/burned and some people will aggravate the wound to make the scar more prominent.



In America, scarification is mainly done because it is a more extreme way of modifying the body and is considered more “out there” and “bizarre”. Scarification in other countries is usually not done specially for aesthetic reasons but as a right of passage, for religious or  for political reasons as well.  For example, in a West African tribe, scarification is used to mark specific milestones in both men and women’s lives such as puberty and marriage.


Other reasons for scarification may include:

  • Scarification is more visible on darker skin than tattoos.
  • Endorphins can be released during this process inducing a euphoric state.
  • Scarring on the abdomen of women in many tribes symbolized their willingness to be a mother. The process of scarification proved that they can handle the pain of child  birth.
  • Most people who have “markings” in certain regions in Africa identify as belonging to specific tribe or ethnic group.
  • Some groups will use scarification to treat certain ailments such as measles, convulsions, pneumonia, and stomach pains. It is said that the cause of these ailments originated in the blood and so by cutting the skin in a ritualistic manner, it can cure these ailments.

Scarification is not a precise practice as every persons skin is different, and there are many different techniques that have been used to cause scarring in the skin.

Strike branding:

This process is similar to the way we brand livestock. A piece of metal is heated up and pressed against the skin to cause a burn. This type of scarification was historically used to show ownership in slaves or to punish criminals.

Cautery branding:

This form of branding is less common and uses a thermal cautery tool with a heated wire tip to cause the burns.

Laser branding: 

The term more commonly used is “electrosurgical branding” and was invented by Steve Haworth. This term refers not to the tool itself but rather an electrosurgical unit which uses electricity to cauterize and cut skin, similar to the way an arc welder works. An electric spark jumps from the hand-held pen of the device to the skin, vaporizing it. This procedure greatly reduced the pain and healing time of the branding method. Since it vaporizes the skin, it does no damage to the surrounding skin as opposed to cautery or strike branding.


This is a disposable electrosurgical pen which is plugged into the electrosurgical unit.

Cold branding: 

This process uses the same metal rod with a design on the end as Strike branding but instead of heating it, it is frozen with liquid nitrogen. This method will cause the arms in the area of the burn will grow back white and will also not cause keloiding.


Cutting of the skin for cosmetic reasons should not be confused with self-harm. The lines are cut with surgical blades and  techniques have been used such as:

Ink Rubbing:

Tattoo ink his rubbed into the fresh paint. Most of the ink will stay in the skin as the wound heals and will have pretty much the same basic effect as a tattoo. Much like a tattoo, picking the scabs will pull the ink out.

Skin Removal/Skinning:

Cutting in a single line will create very thin scars so people would use this way as a way to create much thicker scars. You cut an outline of the skin you want to be removed and then simply peel it back.


Scars can be formed by removing layers of skin through abrasion. You could do this by using an ink-less tattoo gun or any object that can remove skin through friction(ex. sandpaper).


You can touch up your scarification if the outcome isn’t what you wanted by doing a secondary scarification may be conducted.

There’s an alternative view, LITHA, or Leave It The Hell Alone . Meaning, not touching it makes the healing process by greatly decreasing risk of infection.



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