Psychology Wiki

Assessment | Biopsychology | Comparative | Cognitive | Developmental | Language | Individual differences | Personality | Philosophy | Social |
Methods | Statistics | Clinical | Educational | Industrial | Professional items | World psychology |

Social psychology: Altruism · Attribution · Attitudes · Conformity · Discrimination · Groups · Interpersonal relations · Obedience · Prejudice · Norms · Perception · Index · Outline

File:Euler's identity scarification, 3PiCon, Springfield, MA.JPG.jpg

Modern Scarification (Euler's identity)

Scarifying involves scratching, etching, or some sort of superficial cutting or incision as a permanent body modification, etching designs, pictures, or words into the skin.[1]

In the process of body scarification, scars are formed by cutting or branding the skin. Scarification is sometimes called cicatrization (from the French equivalent).


Scarification has been used for many reasons in many different cultures. Scarification has been used as a rite of passage in adolescence, or to denote the emotional state of the wearer of the scars, such as times of sorrow or well-being. This is common among Australian Aboriginal and Sepik River tribes in New Guinea, amongst others.[verification needed] Scarification by deliberately burning skin is called branding and has historically been used to mark slaves and criminals, usually with the brand being visible and often letter-coded to reflect the crime. Until the 1870s, the Māori of New Zealand used a form of ink rubbing scarification to produce facial tattoos known as "moko."[2] Moko were considered to make the body complete as Māori bodies were considered to be naked without these marks. Moko were unique to each person and served as a sort of signature. Some Māori chiefs even used the pattern of their moko as their signatures on land treaties with Europeans. They were derived by their father's moko/moku on the left of the face, the mothers on the right and their chosen trade/profession in the bottom/middle. In some cultures, the willingness of a woman to receive scarification shows her maturity and willingness to bear children. Scarification is fairly common in West Africa and New Guinea[verification needed], as well as the Congo and the southern Sudan.[3] Facial scarring was a practice among the Huns.[4] Facial scarring resulting from academic fencing was regarded as a badge of honour among the European dueling fraternities, this tradition originating in the 19th century.


Scarification is usually more visible on darker skinned people than tattoos. Endorphins can be released in the scarification process that can induce a euphoric state. There are also religious and social reasons for scarification. According to some tribal beliefs in Africa, producing scars on newborn children helps prevent vision related illness.[How to reference and link to summary or text]


Scarification is not a precise practice; variables, such as skin type, cut depth, and how the wound is treated while healing, that make the outcome unpredictable. A method that works on one person may not work on another. The scars tend to spread as they heal, so outcome design is usually simple, the details being lost during healing. Tom Skelly was the first known man to practice scarification in the United States.


File:Strike Branding.jpg

Modern strike branding instruments

Human branding is one type of scarification. It is similar in nature to livestock branding.

Strike branding
This is the same process used to brand livestock.[5] A piece of metal is heated and pressed onto the skin for the brand. However, the brand is usually 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.
Cautery branding
This is a less common form of branding that uses a tool similar to a cautery-iron to cause the burns.
Laser branding
The technical term for laser branding is "electrocautery branding". The electrocautery unit is more like an arc welder for skin than a medical laser (though it is possible to use a medical laser for scarification). Electric sparks jump from the device to the skin, vaporizing the skin. This is a more precise form of scarification, because it is possible to regulate the depth and nature of the skin damage being done to it.
Cold branding
This rare method of branding is the same thing as strike branding, except that the metal branding tool is subjected to extreme cold (such as liquid nitrogen) rather than extreme heat. This method will cause the hair on the brand to grow back white and will not cause keloiding.


Sepik River, Papua New Guinea. Initiation ceremony, Korogo Village, 1975.

File:Sepik River initiation - crocodile scarification 1975, 2.JPG

Sepik River initiation - crocodile scarification. Korogo village, 1975. Franz Luthi

Cutting of the skin for cosmetic purposes is not to be confused with self-injury, which is also referred to by the euphemism "cutting." There may be cases of self-injury and self-scarification for non-cosmetic reasons. Lines are cut with surgical blades. Techniques include:

Ink rubbing
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. As with tattoos, it is important not to pick the scabs as this will pull out the ink. The general public often interprets ink-rubbings as poorly done tattoos.
Skin removal/skinning
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. Scars from this method often have an inconsistent texture.
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 keloids 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.


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.


The common practice on healing a scarification wound is use of irritation.

Generally, the longer for a wound to heal, the more pronounced the scar will be. Thus, in order to have pronounced scars, the wound may be kept open for a protracted time. This is by abrading scabs and irritating the wound with chemical or natural irritants such as toothpaste or citrus juice. Some practitioners use tincture of iodine which has been proven to cause more visible scarring (this is why it's no longer used for treating minor wounds). With this method, a wound may take months to heal.
Keloids are raised scars. Keloiding can be a result of genetics, skin color (darker skin types are more prone to keloiding), or irritation. Keloids are often sought for a visual, 3-D effect and for tactile effects.
  • If an enclosed area perimeter is cut or branded, the skin inside of the closed space may die off and scar due to a lack of blood flow.
If a scarification does not heal to yield a prescribed outcome, secondary scarifications may be conducted.

An alternative view is described by the acronym LITHA, meaning Leave It The Hell Alone. In body modification this is often considered the best way to reduce the risk of infection and the pain of healing.[How to reference and link to summary or text]


Scarification produces harm and trauma to the skin; thus it is considered by many to be not safe. Infection is a concern.[6] Not only do the materials for inducing the wounds need to be sanitary, but the wound needs to be kept clean, using antibacterial solutions or soaps often, and having good hygiene in general.[7] It is not uncommon, especially if the wound is being irritated, for a local infection to develop around the wound. The scarification worker needs to have detailed knowledge of the anatomy of human skin, in order to prevent tools cutting too deep, burning too hot, or burning for too long. Scarification isn't nearly as popular as tattooing, so it is harder to find workers experienced in scarification. Precautions are made for brandings, such as wearing masks, because it is possible for diseases to be passed from the skin into the air when the skin is burning.

See also


External links

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).