What is Embalming & Why Was It Used?

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Money Savings Advice What is embalming

Embalming is one of the things you’ll be asked about when making funeral arrangements for a loved one. It can be difficult to make a decision if you don’t really know much about the process, so this guide is here to help you understand what embalming is, what the process involves and when you might want to consider it.

Please bear in mind that this article contains an explanation of the processes involved in embalming a body.

This can be distressing to read if you have recently lost somebody. If you don’t want to read on, you can discuss embalming with your funeral director.

What is Embalming?

Embalming is a way to preserve a body using chemicals. Embalming slows down the natural break down of cells after death, which temporarily slows the decomposition process.

It’s by no means a modern practice either, as it played a part in many ancient funeral practices too. Humans have been practising embalming in various forms for thousands of years - from mummification in ancient Eygpt through to the very different embalming procedures we recognise today.

While embalming was once a way to preserve a body, it’s now more of a temporary way to improve the appearance of the body and prevent any deterioration before the funeral. In the UK, embalming is now sometimes called ‘cosmetic treatment’ or ‘hygiene treatment’.

Why Are Bodies Embalmed?

After death, people can look very different to how they did when they were alive. This can be upsetting to the loved ones they leave behind. The embalming process can help to restore their appearance as much as possible and give an impression of peaceful sleep, which can bring a lot of comfort to a grieving family.

Embalming also delays the decomposition process. This means that you can spend more time with your loved one before they are laid to rest - useful if the funeral has to be delayed, or if people have to travel great distances to say their goodbyes.

If you wish to allow these people to visit the Chapel of Rest before the funeral, embalming may be a good idea.

How Does Embalming Work?

The embalming process can be a bit grizzly to read about so we’ll just cover the basics here.

  1. The body is washed The body is carefully washed with a disinfectant solution. Any muscles or joints that have tightened after death are massaged to relax them.
  2. Facial features are set. The eyes and mouth are closed. Facial hair is shaved.
  3. Natural fluids are replaced. Natural fluids such as blood are removed from the body and replaced with a chemical solution (embalming fluid).
  4. Reconstruction work is carried out. In the event that the body was damaged in some way, embalmers can help to repair, reconstruct or conceal visible damage.
  5. Final cosmetic touches are made. Before viewing, the body is washed and dressed, the hair is brushed and makeup is applied.

You might also be asked to provide the embalmer with a photograph of your loved one so they can get their hairstyling and makeup as close as possible to the way they looked in life.

How Long Does Embalming Take?

The whole process can be completed in a matter of hours, depending on the techniques used and if any reconstructive work or final cosmetic touches are required.

Are There Any Alternatives to Embalming?

In many cases, it isn’t necessary for embalming to be carried out. If you don’t need or want to be able to view the body, for example, there may be little reason to carry out the process.

It’s also worth noting that even if you don’t choose to have the body embalmed, a funeral director can still carry out many of the cosmetic stages of embalming such as washing the body, setting their features, dressing them and doing their hair and makeup.

As an alternative to embalming, a body can be refrigerated to slow down the decomposition process. This is often used as a way to maintain the body while waiting for a funeral service or if there is a delay in making arrangements.


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Will Embalming Affect Funeral Arrangements?

Whether embalming will affect funeral arrangements depends on your plans.

Cremation After Embalming

Embalming has no effect on cremations. The chemicals used during the embalming process don’t influence cremation at all, so it can go ahead as planned.

Burial After Embalming

In most cases, a body can be buried after embalming. The only case in which you may run into problems is with a woodland burial or eco burial, as the embalming chemicals may contaminate the surrounding land. Be careful to check with your funeral director in this case.

Embalming Laws and Regulations

There is no law in the UK saying that you must or must not have a loved one embalmed when they die. Generally, it should be completely the family’s decision as to whether embalming should go ahead or not.

However, there are a couple of exceptions to this rule.

When Embalming Is Required

If a person was overseas when they died and their body needs to be brought back to their home country, embalming is necessary. Some families choose for their loved one to be cremated instead and have the ashes sent home for the funeral in this case.

When Embalming Is Forbidden

In some, often rare cases, embalming is expressly forbidden. This includes:

  • When the body is to be buried in a natural (‘green’) burial ground
  • When the person has died from a notable infectious disease that poses a health risk to the living
  • In religions where embalming is considered to be a desecration of the body, notably Islam and Judaism

Do You Have a Choice About Embalming?

Unless the law or your religious faith says otherwise, you should always have a choice about whether not to go through with embalming. Embalming can be a very personal decision - right for some, not for others. If you’re not sure about whether embalming is right for your loved one, talk to your funeral director for advice.

How Can Money Savings Advice Help You With a Funeral Plan?

Here at Money Savings Advice, we have partnered with some of the UK’s leading Funeral Plan brokers. They have already helped thousands of people get the best Funeral Plan deal and they can do the same for you.

Choosing an independent adviser means they won’t recommend a scheme unless they are sure it is in your best interests. Their advice is also regulated by the FCA, which gives you an additional layer of protection.

If you would like to speak to one of these brokers who can provide you with a ‘whole market quote’ then click on the below and answer the very simple questions.

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