The History of Scarification

For hundreds of years, the painful process of creating raised tattoos has been performed by people all over the world. It’s called scarification and has recently become even more widespread throughout the United States, Europe, and Australia.

Centuries ago, the Maori men of New Zealand chiseled deep tattoos on their faces with patterns that created parallel grooves and ridges, according to National Geographic. Their purpose was to look fierce during battle and to appeal more to women.

Unlike other types of scars, scarification involves controlled injury and is not the result of surgery or some kind of accident. Branding, cutting, and tattooing are all kinds of scarification. During scarification, the skin’s dermis and epidermis are burned, cut, scratched, removed, or chemically-altered with symbols, designs and patterns. A wound results, which, when healed, leads to raised scars (AKA keloids) that form on the skin due to the increased presence of collagen.

This practice is more popular with people of darker skin, on which standard tattoos don’t show up as well.

Scarification was first seen in the United States in the mid-1980s in San Francisco when the LGBTQ+ community started embracing this art form. But its roots are deeply entrench in West African history as permanent scars were created as a form of cultural expression.

Scarification Among Cultural Groups

In the 20th and 21st centuries, Western microcultures practiced scarification, becoming standard practice in fraternities and sororities, as well as among modern primitives and punks. They did this as a form of group or personal identity, as a rite of passage, as part of spiritual beliefs, or as a distinct connection to a tribal culture. These microcultures used many methods, such as:

  • Cutting
  • Packing
  • Skinning
  • Ink rubbings
  • Chemical agents
  • Abrasion

Some people choose to emphasize scars andmaintain open wounds through the repeated recutting of healing skin.

Risks of Scarification

All of these practices come with a high degree of risk. Like most permanent body modifications, scarification comes with health- and aesthetic-related risks. Scarification can take up to a year or longer to heal, during which time constant care is necessary to avoid infections.

You can also put yourself at risk through improper technique, such as when you cut too deep, or when you acquire a blood-borne infection with an infected needle, such as hepatitis B and C. Scarification practitioners trained in proper methods can at least assure the health and safety of clients through sanitized and sterilized equipment and instruments. These instruments should be placed in an autoclave, which is a high-temperature steamer that destroys blood-borne pathogens and bacteria. The practitioner should also disinfect and prepare the area of scarification for the highest level of safety.

If you engaged in scarification but now want to diminish the scar’s appearance, try Scarfade applied twice daily.