Are Stick-And-Poke Tattoos Actually Safe?

In the beginning stages of COVID-19's 2020 quarantine, stick-and-poke tattoos were trending over social media, and understandably so. The DIY, hipster-affiliated tattooing method, consisting of repetitive ink dips and dots into the skin, is pretty straightforward, as its namesake suggests. For many people, stick-and-pokes hearken back to high school, where naive teenagers were obtaining the minimal, non-electric tools to clumsily craft their initials or simplistic shapes into their flesh as a means of rebellion or pure boredom. With millions of Americans in isolation in early 2020, though, it makes sense why the stick-and-poke tattoos were trending on social media, with celebrities like Kaia Gerber citing stick-and-pokes as one of her favorite leisurely activities. 

Since the practice of stick-and-pokes seems relatively low-stakes on the danger scale, consisting of simple supplies like a sterile needle and tattoo ink, people can presume that it's rather safe. But leave it to the professionals and skin doctors to give their input on whether stick-and-poke tats are really worth it, so you can save your impulsivity. 

Why experts warn against DIY stick-and-poke tattoos

For tattoo lovers who want intricate, oftentimes tiny and simple permanent body markings, the aesthetic of stick-and-poke tattoos can be a preferred method compared to the traditional tattoo machine found in most tattoo shops. What stick-and-poke tattoos have shown while trending is that there's often a community-based approach, with some even holding stick-and-poke parties, as one Tik Tok user showed. Although the concept sounds edgy, be cautious with temptation, because medical professionals are sharing their input on the safety of the DIY practice.

According to Cameron Rokhsar, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, stick-and-poke tattoos can come with some gnarly risks that have potential health hazards. He told Vice in 2017 that unsanitary needles used in the stick-and-poke tattooing process can cause staph infections, leading to a possible bacterial infection called cellulitis. Cellulitis can look like a swollen, tender infection that can spread not just around the skin, but even through the lymph nodes and bloodstream.

Similarly, dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD, an associate clinical professor at Yale School of Medicine, told Cosmopolitan in 2020 that keloids, a raised scar that is a result of a skin injury, is just one possible outcome of stick-and-poke tattoos. "Tiny needle punctures may seem like no big deal, but that little trauma can lead to a lifelong scar," Gohara told the publication. Luckily, there are ways to achieve the stick-and-poke look safely.

Find a professional artist who can properly carry out your stick-and-poke dreams

Sure, it may be enticing to impulsively want to buy a DIY stick-and-poke tattooing kit and experiment with leaving art on yourself and your friends for years to come, but try to resist the urge. Byrdie suggests that whether you like stick-and-pokes for the style or prefer it to the standard tattoo machine, you should go to a professional artist who has a sanitary workspace and sterile equipment, including both ink and needles. 

Just like any personal endeavor that entails altercations to your body, do your research before getting a tattoo, which includes locating a skilled stick-and-poke tattoo artist and/or shop based on expert and professional advice. That way, you're less prone to infections, scarring, and overall side-effects from a machine-free tat. After all, if you're deciding to get a stick-and-poke tattoo, make it worth your while, since it will be around awhile. You know what they say: safety first!