Body modification is the rage with people from all walks of life. The old stigmas are being replaced by new ways of looking at beauty and art. There is no denying that master tattoo artists are just as creative and innovative using the human body as a their canvas as those who use actual canvas. These days, however, it’s not just putting ink into the skin, it’s actually removing the skin itself. It’s called scarification and it’s origins are diverse. Native cultures such as the Maori of New Zealand, natives of New Guinea, the Huns of Mongolia, aborigines of Australia and even European fraternities have all been known to use scarification. Often representing rites of passage, badges of honor or to denote emotional states of mind. Even for the treatment of certain ailments.
While there may be many reasons for scarification whether religious or social there also may be a more primal, biological reason. It is a documented fact that endorphins are released during the process and pain of cutting or tattooing skin which promotes a euphoric state. That along with the desire for self-expression and individuality, is what appeals to younger people who permanently mark themselves.
With 36 percent of 25-29 year olds getting tattoos, for some, it’s just not enough. In the last 7 or 8 years scarification has become widespread in the United States, Australia and across Europe. While it will probably never be as popular as tattooing it is not a strange phenomenon in a culture where identity is expressed through appearance.
There are many methods of scarification.
Similar to livestock branding, a piece of metal is heated and pressed onto the skin for the brand. Historically it was used to claim ownership of slaves or to punish criminals, but as a form of body art, strike branding is less preferable to other types because it is not precise and tends to spread greatly on healing, and is not advisable for curved areas of the body. More successful is the multi-strike brand, done piece by piece rather than all at once. For example, to get a V-shaped brand, two lines would be burned separately by a straight piece of metal, rather than by a V-shaped piece of metal.
“Laser” branding is a marketing term coined by Steve Haworth, who pioneered its use in body modification. The technical term is “electrosurgical branding”. Though it is technically possible to use a medical laser for scarification, this term refers not an actual laser, but rather an electrosurgical unit which uses electricity to cut and cauterize the skin, similar to the way an arc welder works. Electric sparks jump from the hand-held pen of the device to the skin, vaporizing it. This is a more precise form of scarification, because it is possible to greatly regulate the depth and nature of the damage being done to the skin. Electrosurgery branding vaporizes the skin so precisely and so quickly that little to no heat or damage to the surrounding skin is caused. This means that pain and healing time after the scarification is complete is greatly lessened.
Cutting of the skin for cosmetic purposes is not to be confused with self-harm, which is also referred to by the euphemism “cutting.” In this method lines are cut with surgical blades. Techniques include:
tattoo ink (or another sterile coloring agent) is rubbed into a fresh cut. Most of the ink remains in the skin as the cut heals, and will have the same basic effect as a tattoo. Seems kind of like rubbing salt in a wound?
Cutting in single lines produces relatively thin scars, and skin removal is a way to get a larger area of scar tissue. The outlines of the area of skin to be removed will be cut, and then the skin to be removed will be peeled away. Ouch.
This method is uncommon in the West, but has traditionally been used in Africa. A cut is made diagonally and an inert material such as clay or ash is packed into the wound; massive hypertrophic scars are formed during healing as the wound pushes out the substance that had been inserted into the wound. Cigar ash is used in the United States for more raised and purple scars; people may also use ashes of deceased persons… are you kidding me?
similar in appearance to flesh removal this method of scarification relies on using a sterile surgical scalpel to cut into the skin. Where a larger area is required to be scarred you cut with a hatching technique similar to the sketching technique. This method is easier to perform than flesh removal and can be done with one hand which could be beneficial in some situations. While this technique can take longer for larger pieces it is useful for smaller, more detailed designs and enables shading to be used.
Scars can be formed by removing layers of skin through abrasion. This can be achieved 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. The effects of this method are typically similar to other, simpler forms of scarification; as a result there has been little research undertaken on this method.
I always considered myself pretty good at tolerating pain, but scarification is something I don’t think I could handle, euphoria or not. I don’t recommend you try it either because the down sides can be pretty horrific, massive infections and of course, tattoos can at least be removed but a scar is forever.