What is Scarification?

This next story is about a body art technique that you may find hard to believe people pay to have done to them as well as to watch. It’s called “scarification” and it’s not easy to find places that will do it. But basically, the “artist” uses a scalpel to pierce the flesh to make a permanent scar that’s like a three dimensional tattoo without the ink. As Cindy Csordas explains, there are a lot of risks involved in the process. And again, a warning some of our more sensitive viewers may find this difficult to watch.

Man in YouTube video: “I don’t want a tattoo. I wanted something special.”

That something special this man posted on youtube is the process he went through called scarification. Unlike a tattoo, the artist cuts in to the deep layer of the skin that will form a permanent scar when it’s healed.

YouTube man: “You can actually feel the blade in your skin cracking it open, it was just weird. I loved that feeling and yet hated it.”

He also went on to say that it hurts. Ron Vender is a Dermatologist and Associate Clinical Professer at McMaster University in Hamilton. He says this form of body modification has been a tribal practice for centuries but is relatively new to North America: “There’s a risk of excessive bleeding if a large vessel is hit, if someone is untrained does it, there’s also a risk of secondary infection, even if clean instruments are used. Could lead to an infection that can spread throughout the blood otherwise known as blood poisoning. If instruments are not clean then Hepatitis C can occur. And also other blood born infections like HIV.”

We contacted two places who do scarification, one in Cambridge, one in Toronto. The Toronto place didn’t return our calls or emails and the Cambridge artist said he was worried about talking on camera because of the negative feedback from people who find this art disgusting and who don’t understand why people would scar themselves on purpose.

YouTube man: “You’re doing exactly what you want to do. You’re suffering for your dream, your passion. That’s what I want in life, I want people to create works of art.”

The Cambridge location is in the Region of Waterloo. The region says that the establishment does not require a licence but the region does do annual inspections of tattoo parlours. The Ontario government says some tattoo artists who perform body modifications are not regulated health professionals authorized to do this kind of procedure. And they’re also not trained on how to deal with excessive bleeding or infections.