Written for Scars1 by Michelle Alford
Body scarification, or the creation of scars for aesthetic or religious purposes, has been practiced for thousands of years, especially among African tribes. Facial scarring was also popular among the Huns in the 4th, 5th, and 6th centuries. In the United States, scarification first emerged in San Francisco in the 1980s. In the 90s, it became a common practice among groups interested in reviving ancient rituals as a method of becoming in touch with their bodies. More recently, body scarification has gained popularity in the body modification community.
Permanent scars in the shape of intricate designs are created using several methods. Most often, the upper layers of skin are removed using abrasion or skinning. In abrasion, sandpaper or tattoo devices without ink are used to erode specific sections of skin with friction. For skinning, the design’s outlines are carefully cut into the skin. Then, the skin between these outlines is peeled off.
Another method involves adding foreign substances to fresh wounds. Ink can be rubbed into wounds to add a colored tint to the scar tissue, creating a tattoo-like appearance. In nonwestern cultures, it’s common to pack clay or ash into wounds to create more upraised scars. The ash of recently deceased loved ones is often used as a memorial of their passing.
Though less common, branding can also be used to create permanent scars. A branding iron is shaped into the desired design and heated until it is extremely hot. It is then placed against the skin and burns the design into the flesh.
Scars are caused by a buildup of keloids, or scar tissue, due to slowly or poorly healing injuries. As such, those practicing body scarification often keep irritating the freshly designed wounds as a method of creating more pronounced scars. Chemicals or citrus juice are used to keep the wound open while the keloids continue to build. This is medically unsound and can result in serious infections. Others choose to leave the scar alone and allow it to heal naturally. Though this may result in less noticeable scars, it is much healthier.
Much like all forms of body modification, scarification is both praised by those who love it and heavily criticized by those who don’t. Those who practice scarification say that it is a unique form of body art that uses the body’s natural defenses to express personality and create beauty. However, amateur scarification can be extremely dangerous. In addition to the risk of infection, cuts too deep can cause permanent damage. Also, because every body heals differently, the effects of scarification vary significantly. Regardless, advances in medical science have made aesthetic scars potentially more reversible if circumstances or views change.
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