Scarification is not for the faint of heart. It is an art form that is reserved for those who can handle loads of pain. There are multiple forms of scarification, including cutting, skin removal, and branding. Cutting is performed with a scalpel, and it works by having an artist cut about 3mm deep designs with the blade. It sounds awfully painful, but the rumor is that it is comparable to the pain of a tattoo. Skin removal is a little more gruesome. After cutting a design into the skin, an artist will lift a corner of the skin and peel away the area that has been traced for removal. However, the hot brand is apparently the most painful. In fact, branding was formerly used in England during the middle ages to punish criminals.
There are multiple approaches to branding and different artists use different methods. There are thermal cauterizers, supercooled metals that freeze the skin to create the brand, and then there is strike branding. Strike branding is the old tried and true method that has been in practice for ages. This method is the most common type of brand, and it utilizes fire heated metal, the same as with cattle branding.
When it comes to the design, brands tend to be fairly simple and plain. Scar tissue swells, so you would have a hard time producing the same level of detail as you would with a tattoo. That said, you can definitely find people with amazing designs. More commonly, you will see simple letters and symbols such as an iron cross or a heart. One thing to keep in mind with a brand is that it is irreversible. Even though tattoos are considered permanent, you can still get it removed, but this is not the case with a brand. You could always cover up an old brand you don’t like with a new one, but the scar tissue is generally there to stay unless you get an area of skin surgically removed.
After settling on a design, the next step is to find an artist, and you will want to make sure that your artist has some experience with branding. When someone is coming at you with a 500 degree (Fahrenheit) piece of metal, you want to make sure they know what they are doing. The exact methodology may vary from artist to artist, but it generally goes something like this: the artist heats a piece of metal with a blowtorch, and once it turns red hot, it is pressed against the skin, burning through the first two layers of the epidermis (ideally, only grazing the third layer). This process is different from cattle branding where a farmer only uses one piece of iron with a stencil of the design. Brand artists typically have a lot of different sizes and shapes of branding irons, and the brand usually doesn’t happen all at once as it does with cattle. It may be a series of dots pressed over and over to build a design, or maybe just a straight rod that is pressed against the skin in a few different locations and angles to create a symbol such as the letter ‘A’.
Once the artist has completed the design, the brand is then cleaned, bandaged and wrapped tight with cellophane so that air cannot reach it. With scarification, the goal is to get a thick scar, not healthy healed skin, so keeping it airtight and away from oxygen is important. Oxygen will only accelerate the healing process. One thing that is a little gross about the healing is that the brand will sometimes bleed and ooze, so often times people use medical tape around the edges of the cellophane wrap to keep the fluids from making a mess. One final note, the legality of branding is a gray area, so if this is something that interests you, you may want to do a little research on your local laws before going through with it.