What is Scarification?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 24 March 2014
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Scarification is a form of body modification in which practitioners deliberately scar themselves or each other, using a variety of techniques. Scarification designs are incredibly diverse, ranging from bold and simple brands to extremely complex and detailed cuttings. Like all methods of body modification, scarification does carry some safety risks, but when performed safely, many people believe that it is an acceptable risk.

Scarification has been practiced for thousands of years by a wide variety of people. Many tribes use scarification as part of their initiation ceremonies, using scars to distinguish between adults of the tribe and children, and many tribal scars are extremely complex and unique. Facial scarring in particular is a common practice in many parts of the world, and some very fine examples can be seen in photography collections of native Australians and some African peoples. For tribal peoples, scarification is part of the process of belonging, and it is an important part of their cultural expression.

For people outside of tribes, there are a number of reasons to engage in scarification, just as there are an assortment of motivations for many kinds of body modification. Some people simply like the aesthetics of scarring, for example, while others view the process as part of a personal rite of passage, considering the scarification experience an important event in their lives. The designs used in scarification are typically unique to the wearer, celebrating his or her individuality.


There are a number of techniques which can be used for scarification. Branding is a common method, along with cutting and skin removal. Some native peoples use a packing technique, making a slit wound and packing it with an irritant. As the wound heals, pushing the irritant out, a large raised scar forms. Depending on the method used, scarification can have incredibly complex detail, or it can be more simplistic.

The healing process for scarification is often lengthy, and there is some dispute over the best aftercare technique. As a general rule, one should always go to a practitioner who has been trained in scarification for the best results, and it is a good idea to follow his or her advice, which comes from years of experience in the field. Basically, aftercare breaks down into two main categories: leaving the wound alone, and irritating the wound. Some people feel that the best aftercare is minimal, with clients simply keeping the wound clean and allowing air to circulate around it to promote healing. Other people feel that scarification sites heal most effectively when the wound is irritated, because this will make the resulting scar larger. However, this can also lead to infection and uneven healing.


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