When Eva Nieto went to school for piercing and branding in 2002, she thought it may have been of waste of her time and money--at least for the branding portion.
Nieto was interested in branding but she knew it was going to take a long time before the wave of interest ever hit the Midwest. That didn't stop Neito from opening her own body modification business on Pearl Street that specializes in body piercing, tattooing and body branding. The latter, she said, is starting to catch on as the tattoo scene becomes less taboo.
"I've been in the industry for less than 20 years and it's changed so much," said Nieto. "It's not weird anymore to do this."
Branding, a form of scarification, is when you burn the skin to create a design -- the end result scar is the design. Nieto said there are three different processes to branding. The first is incense branding.
"It's not done very often," she said. "That's when you get a special kind of incense and you light it and it slowly burns into your skin."
A person will often meditate or have a small ritual as it usually is a very meaningful event in his or her life.
The second process is called strike branding.
"It's where you shape one-inch sections of thin metal to the design and you heat it with a propane torch and then strike it to the skin," said Nieto. "So it's not like a whole design is on a poker."
Breaking the design down into smaller, one-inch pieces is necessary because branding causes second- or third-degree burns around the design as well.
"So, when it heals, if you get a line that's 5 millimeters wide, it's actually going to heal to maybe 8 to 10 millimeters wide because of the burn around it -- it widens itself," said Nieto.
As a result, most designs need to be kept simple--nothing too intricate, otherwise there's a possibility of a blurry scar.
"I've done dates of loved ones that died or initials of somebody that's meaningful to them," said Nieto. "A lot of farmers come in to get their actual brand done that they put on their cows."
Greek letters are also popular with fraternities among other designs.
The last branding process is electrocautery, which involves an electrocautery machine that surgeons use to seal up wounds or blood vessels, said Nieto.
"That's the most popular one I do," she said. "It looks like a pen connected to a power unit -- the end of the pen gets to 2,200 degrees [Fahrenheit] so it just vaporizes the tissue. But you can control it very easily."
Peggy Baker-Dawdy, an at-home mom from Sioux City, received her branding through the electrocautery process. The design she chose was a treble clef on the back of her leg. It was also Baker-Dawdy's first brand.
"Everybody is getting tattoos these days and I wanted something a little more permanent," the 41-year-old said. "It wasn't quite as bad as I thought it was going to be. But don't get me wrong, it does hurt."
The mother of four has her fair share of tattoos as well -- she lost count at 47. Each tattoo has a meaning and some of them her kids helped picked out, which means a lot of cartoon characters like Fred Fredburger and Mandy from "The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy." The brand carries a message as well.
"Music has always had a big influence in my life," said Baker-Dawdy. "That's why I went with the treble clef because music has gotten me through some of my darkest hours."
Baker-Dawdy, pleased with the turnout of the design, plans to get a second brand of a bass clef after the treble clef is finished healing. Her advice to people wanting to get a brand for the first time? Think long and hard about it.
"It's a very important decision and it's something you're going to have on your body for the rest of your life," said Baker-Dawdy. "Then take the plunge and go ahead and get one, it's not as bad as people think it is."
Skin peelings and cuttings
With branding, the wound isn't going to bleed at all since it seals the tissue up completely. It's not open to any bacteria, unlike skin peelings and cuttings. Nieto uses scalpels to cut the skin to create a scar design.
"With cuttings, it's very important to stay clean and sterile," said Nieto. "We take extra measures for that: sterile gloves and sterile gauze."
The gloves specifically used for cuttings are sealed in a prepackaged container.
"It's a little different from our normal process but an extra step doesn't hurt."
Neito said there's usually more aftercare details given to the client, especially on cuttings since it is an open wound. The consensus with most scarifications is that the more a client opens a wound the more prominent the scar.
Some people may want the design to keloid, which is when a scar has risen off the skin. If someone wants that, then Nieto encourages him or her to open the wound a few times before it completely heals.
"Every time the wound heals over the scab, then we ask them -- if they want -- to open it back up," said Nieto. "Whether picking the scab all off or using a pumice rock -- it all has to be clean and done in a clean way."
Depending on the client and aftercare process, the design could take two to three weeks to heal or even up to two months.
Nieto says the industry has expanded so rapidly and become less taboo thanks to body modification TV shows. Staying ahead of the curve by being open to even "weirder" ideas than tattooing is something Nieto had to learn a lot about to be able to make others understand.
"It's really important for people to stay up on current problems, new and upcoming jewelry, techniques and sterility," said Nieto. "You have to stay in front of the education."