Does burning your skin with heated metal sound appealing to you? Believe it or not, you’re not alone. Plenty of people are intentionally burning their skin to create artistic scars. But while you might consider these burns simply an alternative — albeit 100 percent permanent — to tattoos, they carry their own risks. Read on to learn what precautions to take if you’re thinking about getting one.

A Brief History of Human Branding

Human slaves were often branded as property, and the ancient Romans used to tag runaways with the letters “FVG,” meaning fugitive. Criminals throughout history were also branded for their crimes, which combined physical torture and public humiliation.

But intentionally subjecting oneself to branding, tattooing, or scarification have different meanings, depending on where they are used.

Many tribes have used branding or scarification as a right of passage, whether signifying puberty or celebrating a marriage. These markings are also used to signify status in a group, whether for social, political, or religious reasons.

In some cultures, meanwhile, body branding is done for spiritual purposes because enduring the pain allows the person to enter into a more heightened state of awareness.

At the start of the 20th century, upper class members of Austrian and German societies would show off dueling scars to signify their bravery in battle, while vegan groups in Israel have burned their skin with the insignia “269” to protest the meat industry.

Modern Branding and Scarification

Today, some are using body branding to decorate their bodies in the same way that others might get a tattoo. Typically, they use one of these four processes:

  • Striking: Small strips of heated stainless steel are placed on the skin to make designs on the body.
  • Electrocautery: Surgical-grade cauterizing equipment heats up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, instantly causing third-degree burns on the skin.
  • Electrosurgery: Similar to electrocautery, but medical grade equipment uses electricity to create designs.
  • Moxabustion: This is marking the skin with incense.

The most common method is striking. Unlike tattoos that can be removed with laser surgery or pierced holes that can heal, branding is done because it is permanent.

With that in mind, branding isn’t some kind of do-it-yourself at-home activity. It is a painful activity that should only be done by professionals who are trained in handling sterilized equipment in a sanitary environment.

What to Watch Out For

During the branding process itself, you may feel faint, have difficulty breathing, or even pass out. While some seek the euphoric release of dopamine during the painful process, it can easily overwhelm a person, especially during long sessions.

If you’re prone to fainting, especially when you experience pain, branding might not be for you. Other telling signs that you shouldn’t get a brand include:

  • The person doing the branding is using anything other than professional equipment, such as a coat hanger.
  • The person isn’t wearing gloves or following other sanitary guidelines.
  • The area where the branding is being performed isn’t clean.
  • Your brander is visibly intoxicated or otherwise under the influence.

Taking Care of the Wound

Any time you break the skin, you run the risk of a potentially debilitating infection. Healing your branding scars requires special care.

Immediately After

As all branding techniques involving burning the skin to a certain degree, they require the same amount of care, if not more, than accidental burns. After the initial treatment, your brander should apply therapeutic salve and cover the brand with plastic wrap.

At Home

Afterwards, and until the brand is entirely healed, you should wash the affected area with mild soap as needed. In the first few days of treatment, you should wash and bandage your wounds twice a day.

Bandaging should protect the healing skin, but also allow it to breathe. Gently apply a therapeutic salve, such as antibiotic cream or petroleum jelly, then cover the wound with gauze. Do this at least once a day until the wound is completely healed.

Spotting Infection

While the wound is healing, watch out for signs of infection, including redness, swelling, pus, and warmth. Should your wound become infected, seek medical assistance as soon as possible to prevent further complications.

Also, you may want to consider a tetanus shot if you haven’t received one in the last 10 years. If you’re unsure, ask your doctor for the shot.

Overall, use common sense. The burn, if done correctly, will be permanent, so make sure it’s something you want and that it is performed in a safe and professional setting. If done improperly, it could lead to a serious infection or a disfiguring scar, or both.