Are you interested in body branding? You’re not alone. Many people are intentionally burning their skin to create artistic scars. But while you might consider these burns an alternative to tattoos, they carry their own significant risks.

Read on to learn about some of the history of body branding, how the branding process works, and the precautions to take if you’re thinking about body branding.

Some branding has been done to others to signify ownership and/or as punishment:

  • Human slaves were often branded as property.
  • The ancient Romans branded runaway slaves with the letters FVG, meaning “fugitive.”
  • Criminals throughout history were branded for their crimes.

Some body modifications (including branding, tattooing, and scarification) have cultural significance, depending on where and how they’re used:

  • Many cultures have used branding or scarification to mark a rite of passage, for example, to signify the beginning of puberty.
  • These markings are also sometimes used to signify status within or connection to a group or for other social, political, or religious reasons.
  • In some cultures, body branding is done for spiritual purposes. Enduring the pain is understood as a means to enter into a more heightened state of awareness.

Today, some people 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:

  1. Striking: Small strips of heated stainless steel are placed on the skin to make designs on the body.
  2. Electrocautery: Surgical-grade cauterizing equipment heats up to 2,000°F (1,093°C), instantly causing third-degree burns on the skin.
  3. Electrosurgery: This is similar to electrocautery, but the medical grade equipment uses electricity to create designs.
  4. Moxibustion: This is the marking of skin with incense.

The most common method is striking.

Unlike tattoos that have can be removed with laser surgery or piercing holes that can heal, branding is permanent.

Branding isn’t a do-it-yourself, at-home activity. It’s a painful process that should only be done by professionals in a sanitary environment who are trained in handling sterilized equipment.

During the branding process, you may feel faint, have difficulty breathing, or even pass out. While some seek the euphoric release of dopamine during the process, it can be overwhelming, especially during long sessions.

If you’re prone to fainting, especially when you experience pain, branding might not be for you.

If you decide to get a brand, there may be good reasons for putting it off, including the following:

  • The person doing the branding is using nonprofessional equipment (for example, a coat hanger).
  • They aren’t wearing gloves or following other sanitary guidelines.
  • The area where the branding is being performed isn’t clean.
  • Your brander is intoxicated or otherwise under the influence.

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

Immediately after

All branding techniques involve burning the skin. So your skin will require the same amount of care, if not more, than it does after an accidental burn. After branding, your brander should apply therapeutic salve and cover the brand with plastic wrap.

At home

Until the brand is healed, you should wash the affected area with mild soap as needed. During the first few days after branding, 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, and 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 symptoms of infection, including:

  • redness
  • swelling
  • pus
  • warmth

If your wound becomes infected, seek medical care right away 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.

If you’re thinking about body branding, make sure you know what the process entails.

Unlike a tattoo or a piercing, the burn will be permanent, so also make sure it’s something you want.

Have the procedure done in a safe, professional setting. If done improperly, it could lead to a serious infection, a disfiguring scar, or both.