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Branding is a form of body modification which involves the creation of a distinctive raised scar with the use of heated tools applied to create a pattern. There are a number of different styles of branding, including freeze branding, which utilizes liquid nitrogen and other chilling agents to cool the tools used for branding, rather than heating them, creating a more subtle pattern on the skin. Many people consider branding to be a branch of scarification.
People have been practicing scarification on each other for thousands of years, with some tribes continuing to practice scarification as part of their cultural identity. In addition to being used to mark individuals, branding and scarification have also been utilized to mark animals, ensuring that farmers can easily identify their flocks. In some parts of the world, branding has also historically been used to mark criminals, since it creates a permanent mark which cannot be removed.
The process of branding starts with the creation of a pattern, which is typically bold and simple, because complex designs do not always heal well. Once a design has been created, a number of styles of branding can be used to apply it. Strike branding, for example, is the classic branding technique, using a piece of metal shaped into the desired design and heated before being applied to the skin. Some people also use electrocautery pens and similar tools for branding.
Because a brand is a burn, branding can be painful, and the healing time can be prolonged. Many brands take at least two months to heal, and they may go through a number of ugly stages before the healing is complete. It generally takes another four months after this primary healing period for the brand to settle, revealing a distinctive raised scar at the site where the brand was applied. Branding is considered to be a permanent method of body modification, although the same surgical techniques used in the treatment of burn victims can be used to treat a brand.
There is some debate over the best healing process for a brand, with client receiving different aftercare instructions from different practitioners. Some people believe the brands heal best when largely left alone, although the site should be kept clean to prevent infection. Others believe that the brand should be irritated during the healing practice, to increase the raised scarring at the end of the healing process. However, irritating the wound sets up the potential for infection, and may result in an uneven scar.