What is Scarification?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

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.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


In some African cultures, scarification is a sign of courage and it also serves as identity. For example, each tribe might have a specific design for scarification so that people can be identified easily.


@candyquilt-- I don't agree with you because scarification in most cultures, or for most people is not about harming, injuring or causing pain. It's actually about beautifying the body and it is increasing in popularity.

Although it's an ancient art, more and more people are now preferring scarification tattoos. I think that scarification is actually safer than tattoos as there is no ink involved. Of course scarification carries some risks as well but if done properly and cared for properly, it will be fine.


I don't mean to insult or disrespect anyone. I understand that scarification is an important form of self expression and belonging for some people. But I personally feel that scarification is not much different from self-injury or self-harm disorders. And forcing others to endure self-harm and physical pain is even worse in my opinion. I don't believe that anything that harms an individual's body and causes suffering can be beneficial. So I am against scarification.

I'm of the opinion that although our body is ours, we don't have the right to do whatever we want to it. I think that we need to treat our body with respect. I also think that scarification carries huge health risks because skin infections, if uncontrolled, can lead to bacteria entering the blood stream. This type of systemic infection can result in death.

Post your comments
Forgot password?