Scarification | Painful Pleasures Community


Scarification is a form of body modification that has grown in popularity over recent decades. Learn more about the history of scarification & tattoo aftercare.
by Painful Pleasures Last Updated: July 13, 2022

Scarification is a form of body modification that has steadily grown in popularity over recent decades. It’s not nearly as common as piercing or tattooing, but for those interested in a slightly more extreme form of body modification, scarification provides a beautiful blend of the aesthetic and the spiritual. 

What is Scarification?

Scarification is the process of cutting, branding, or burning artistic patterns and designs into the flesh. Today, this is typically achieved with a scalpel or an electrocautery pen, although some practitioners may use other techniques such as branding or abrasion (see below). Whatever method is employed, the intended result is smooth, raised, keloid-like scars that stand out dramatically against the rest of the skin surface. Scarification results can be somewhat hard to predict and control, however, due to the nature of the procedure and differences in people’s bodies and scarification techniques.

Because scarification is more painful, more dangerous, and less common than piercing or tattooing, you should spend plenty of time researching the process and finding an experienced and reputable scarification artist if you’re interested in this form of body modification.

How is Scarification Performed?

In most places today, scarification is performed using surgical tools like scalpels and cautery devices for their controllability and clarity of results. But there are other methods of scarification as well. Keep in mind that not every scarification artist is proficient in all scarification methods. Depending on your desired design and location, some methods of scarification may be more appropriate than others. Just like in tattooing, correct scarification involves penetrating the dermis layer of the skin.


This form of scarification is one of the most common and involves using scalpels or other sharp instruments to cut designs into the skin. This cosmetic procedure should not be confused with self-mutilation or cutting for the purpose of self-harm. Occasionally, tattoo ink or skin adhesive is rubbed into the wounds to darken the design and make them more pronounced.


This type of scarification involves using a single piece of metal to press a complete design into the skin with a single application, similarly to how livestock is often branded. Branding can be achieved by either heating or cooling the metal to extreme temperatures. Sometimes, artists will apply multiple individual brands to create a single large design instead. Because branding is less precise and controllable than other scarification methods, it is less common.

Cautery/Electrosurgical Branding

This method of scarification involves either a thermal or electrosurgical cautery device. Because these devices are compact and pen-like, this method often produces some of the most precise and least painful results. Both types of devices burn the skin on contact, but thermal cautery uses heat while electrosurgical devices rely on electricity. Electrosurgical branding is also occasionally called “laser branding,” even though there are no lasers involved.


Scarification can also be achieved through abrasion by using an inkless tattoo machine, sandpaper, or other tools that remove layers of the skin through friction. 

History of Scarification

Scarification has a long history among various indigenous cultures around the world. Among the Maori of New Zealand, for example, facial scarification provided a form of self-identification and symbolized men’s prowess both in courtship and in battle. Scarification is also prominent in many West African cultures, where the process was used to mark ceremonial rites of passage such as puberty or marriage, to display tribal rank or affiliations, or to express a spiritual message. In many indigenous contexts, scarification arose as an alternative to tattooing because it is more noticeable on skin with high melanin content.

Scarification still exists in some indigenous communities today, but it has also become a major body modification subculture around the world. In the modern context, scarification tattoos are primarily aesthetic, but for many people, they still carry deep individual and spiritual meanings, as well.

Scarification Tattoos

Scarification is versatile and can be used for anything from simple shapes and outlines to complex geometrical patterns and designs. If you’re considering scarification, it is critically important to find an experienced scarification artist with a well-documented portfolio and a strong reputation for safety. Although beautiful, scarification is also painful, potentially dangerous, and requires a serious commitment to maintenance and aftercare.

Scarification Aftercare

Because scarification involves significant trauma to the skin, proper and persistent aftercare is essential to avoid infection and other complications. Scarification aftercare is significantly more complicated and involved than either piercing or tattoo aftercare, so be sure you understand the commitment before setting your heart on scarification. Your artist should provide you with comprehensive aftercare instructions and supplies before you leave their studio, and you should follow them exactly for as long as necessary. If you’re still thinking about scarification and want to understand the aftercare process and commitment more fully, check out our complete scarification aftercare article.


Scarification is a potential option for those who want a more unique, distinctive, and extreme form of body modification, but it’s one that requires a high pain threshold and a serious commitment to proper maintenance. According to many who’ve done it, however, it provides a form of personal and spiritual self-expression like no other.

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