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BDSM Branding

Updated: JANUARY 11, 2024
Reviewed by Dr. Laura McGuire
on January 8, 2024

BDSM branding refers to applying extreme heat or cold to the skin, usually of a submissive, to make a burn mark. The marks made through BDSM human branding can be temporary or permanent, depending on the techniques and tools used. BDSM branding is sometimes called body branding or skin branding.

Why do people engage in BDSM branding?

Countess Diamond, a professional dominatrix from the United Kingdom, says "Permanent branding is considered the highest honor a dominant can bestow upon a submissive. It’s a visual dedication and symbolizes the bond between submissive and dominant."

Some people also enjoy the physical sensation of being branded. As with many BDSM activities, branding creates an intense pain that can be pleasurable for some people. Some people say they go into a pleasurable, calm state during branding that feels similar to meditation or deep prayer. Branding can also be arousing for masochistic submissives, who feel aroused when receiving pain, and for sadistic dominants, who get off on inflicting pain on others.

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Just as farmers brand their cattle to show ownership, dominants may like to brand their submissives. BDSM slave branding shows a submissive is their dominant’s property. A submissive in any dynamic may like this visible reminder of their connection to the dominant. A dominant may also brand their submissive to punish them.

BDSM human branding is also the latest type of marking that pushes boundaries. Once submissives got tattoos to show their connection to their dominant, but then tattoos became mainstream. People wanting an edgier type of marking may choose branding instead.

The flexibility to choose temporary or permanent branding is also appealing to some people. While permanent branding is a good way to show a submissive’s commitment to their dominant, temporary branding can be a great way to dabble in branding without receiving a lifelong mark.

Any person within the BDSM community can also brand themselves or see a scarification or body modification professional.

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It is important note, however, that there are legal, safety and mental health concerns that come with branding, especially permanent types. This is an extreme BDSM activity that should be approached with full consent and extreme caution - if at all.

Branding Options

BDSMS brands can be temporary or permanent. Temporary brands are sometimes called surface burns, as they only impact the surface of the skin and fade in a few months. Temporary brands are created by pressing a branding tool against the skin once. Permanent branding typically involves striking the skin repeatedly to make a more long-lasting mark.

The types of brands used are limited only by the imagination. A dominant may choose a symbol, pattern, or word that has special meaning to them and their submissive. Initials, numerals, hearts and X’s are some of the most common brand choices.

Countess Diamond suggests people "Keep the design simple. Once it’s healed, if there is too much detail it will be lost in the skin. Stick to clear lines and geometric shapes."

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Branding and Scarification

BDSM branding is often considered a type of scarification, as it can leave a permanent scar on the skin. When the skin gets burned, its tissue breaks apart. The burn is then flooded by immune cells, which ward off infections and help the skin’s tissues heal. Collagen forms in the skin to fill the area that’s burned, creating a scar. This process is similar to the way the body scars after a deep cut.

People have practiced scarification throughout history. Some ancient civilizations used scarification as a rite of passage. Some slave owners scarred their slaves to show their ownership or punish them, much as modern dominants may use branding.

Does branding in BDSM hurt?

Branding is a painful process, as it requires heat or cold so intense that it burns the skin. Countess Diamond says "There are various things someone can do to minimize pain, like numbing creams, but in my experience, the pain is part of the pleasure and the experience."

During the branding process, the brain releases the feel-good chemical dopamine to withstand the pain. This dopamine release can be addictive, leading some people to get several brands to chase the high. Note that self-injury has also been connected to mental health disorders and childhood trauma. Those who are engaging in painful play for these reasons may consider consulting a therapist for other ways to cope.

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More About BDSM Branding

How to Brand a Partner or Yourself as Part of BDSM Play

Most BDSM experts suggest that anyone wanting a brand should see a scarification or body modification professional. Trained specialists can give brands that scar in the desired way with a lower risk of infection. While this professional may be outside the BDSM scene, Countess Diamond says it's worth seeking out "a professional dominant who offers scarification as a service. They are trained, understand the health risks, and you can still make it an intimate experience between you and your partner. Much like having a tattoo artist do a tattoo of your partner’s name - the fact the artist is giving you the tattoo doesn’t lessen the intimacy and connection that the tattoo brings to your relationship."

However, as branding equipment is readily available, some people prefer branding their partner or themselves at home. This is something that should be approached with extreme caution, if at all.

The brander may apply a topical anesthetic to the branding site to numb the area. They should wear latex medical gloves and clean clothes, sterilize their workspace and tools, and clean the receiving person's skin with antiseptic wipes or alcohol to prevent infection. If using a tool that uses heat, instead of electricity or liquid nitrogen, they should wait for it to heat up before applying to the skin to brand it. "It needs to burn the flesh, and too low a heat will just leave an uncomfortable burn that will heal without a scar," Countess Diamond explained. Branders can apply electrical and freezing tools directly to the skin. They shouldn't push too hard, as Countess Diamond says "It's the heat that does the work rather than the pressure."

Branding Tools and Irons

Some of the most common branding tools are:

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Branding iron: This shaped piece of iron or stainless steel gets heated, then applied to the skin to leave the imprint of the shape behind.

Stainless steel strips: The brander places these heated strips on the skin in a pattern and strikes them to create a permanent brand.

Cauterizing equipment: This surgical-grade equipment heats up to 2,000 degrees F to cause third-degree burns.

Electrosurgical pencil: This medical-grade tool uses electrical charges to create a brand design.

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Violet wands: Some violet wands have a fixing that can focus their electrical output. When applied to the skin and moved around, a user can create a design.

Moxa cones: Used in ancient Chinese medicine, these cones of herbs can be burned and applied to the skin to leave scars in a process called moxibustion.

Lasers: A laser prints a precise design on the skin.

Freezing tool: This tool uses very cool liquid nitrogen to create a freeze brand.

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Tools for BDSM branding should be made for humans, as branding tools for animals burn too deeply. Surgical-grade tools are the safest tools, as they are highly unlikely to rust. Countess Diamond also suggests choosing an electrosurgical pencil or a precision laser, as these modern tools "allow for greater depth control, lower risk of infection. These processes also cause less keloid scarring, creating a better-looking brand." Again, however, risks can be best mitigated by visiting a scarification or body modification professional, or avoiding the practice altogether.

As with all BDSM activities, consent is vital for branding. A submissive should always have the right to refuse branding if they are not comfortable with it.

It's also important to note that branding carries significant risk. Rusty equipment can carry the bacteria that causes tetanus. The person being branded should ensure they’ve had a tetanus shot in the last 10 years to reduce the risk of contracting this disease.

Branding sites may also be prone to infection. Ensuring the skin is clean and sterilized, sterilizing the equipment and making sure the brander wears gloves can all minimize the risks. After branding, they should apply a therapeutic salve, such as an antibiotic cream or petroleum jelly, to reduce the pain and cover the branding site with plastic wrap. This wrap will keep the area clean without sticking to the burned skin. It can be removed and swapped for a bandage after an hour or two. Bandages also protect the wound from infection while allowing it to breathe and heal.

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The branded person should also take care of the site while it heals. They should carefully wash the site and reapply the bandage twice a day for the first few days. Applying more therapeutic salve daily until the brand has healed should reduce the pain. Healing typically takes two or three weeks. They should also watch for signs of infection, such as swelling, warmth, redness and pus. Anyone who notices these issues should get a medical professional to assess the branding site.

Receiving training from a professional dominatrix that offers scarification services can also make BDSM branding safer. "This is [typically] a permanent mark and shouldn’t be rushed into," Countess Diamond stressed. "If you don’t have the patience to do training sessions, you shouldn’t do it at all!"

As branding involves giving third-degree burns, it is viewed as grievous bodily harm in many parts of the world. According to 10Masters, it is only legal in Austria, New Zealand, and some parts of the United States. Authorities can prosecute anyone who performs branding in locations where it’s illegal, even if they receive consent. People interested in BDSM branding should research the laws in their area so they understand what’s legal in their location.

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