Are Stick and Poke Tattoos Safe? Are There Hygienic Risks With Handpoke Tattoos?

Written by: Claudia

There are many reasons someone might pursue a stick and poke tattoo. One dominating reason is the low financial cost often associated with at-home handpoke sessions. With stick and poke tattoos rising in popularity, you may be wondering if it’s the safest way to go. We’ve got you covered in our thorough guide.

Related: Does Tattoo Ink Have Metal In It?

What is a Stick and Poke Tattoo?

Stick and poke, or handpoke tattoos, go back for generations. It’s one of the most traditional and primal ways of tattooing that is still practiced by many Indigenous cultures. It is a machine-free way of tattooing that includes a needle that is dipped in ink which then proceeds to poke the skin.

People tend to favor stick and poke tattoos for a few reasons, such as:

  • It is a budget-friendly avenue of tattooing if done at home or by a friend
  • They are usually small and discreet
  • They support non-traditional artists and cultures
  • They can be a bonding experience with the artist as they take more time
  • They allow you to practice designing on yourself for a simple and low-cost investment

I am sure you’ve come across someone demonstrating their at-home stick and poke technique on a social media channel, often with a kit they’ve purchased off the internet. It is a highly accessible tattoo avenue that requires minimal initial skill so many people are taking it up as a hobby.

How Are Handpoke Tattoos Done?

  • Users have a needle that is usually attached to a rod to help hold it. The needle should be sterilized and fresh from a packet.
  • The area on the skin that is being tattooed should be cleaned and shaved.
  • The needle is dipped into the ink (it should be tattoo ink); there are various methods suggested to help “hold the ink” on the needle, including pencil erasers and wound dental floss, but none of them are truly safe.
  • The needle is then tapped onto the skin, deep enough so the ink will hold. This is repeated until the design is complete. This is usually a time-consuming process.

Do Stick and Poke Tattoos Hurt More Than a Normal Tattoo?

Pain is relative, but sometimes the process of slowly inflicted pain make handpoke tattoos more uncomfortable than regular tattoos. This is usually why stick and poke tattoos are so small. They are described as a sharp pinch and a feeling of a sunburn.

The Risk of Stick and Poke Tattoos

Unless your tattoo is being performed in a professional environment, done by a traditional or experienced artist who has extensive knowledge of the handpoke procedure, you are putting yourself and your skin at great risk.

At-home stick and poke tattoos do not follow the hygienic rules, regulations, and licensing imposed on shops. There is no guarantee of prevention of cross-contamination, no way to ensure that everything being used to make the tattoo is sterile or non-toxic, and no way to prevent poor technique and unskilled tattooing leading to a lifetime disappointment on your skin, along with many other potentially worrying results.

With the rise in popularity of handpoke tattoos being done by absolutely anyone in their bedroom, the risk in sanitation issues also rises. There is so much conflicting information across the internet about techniques, tips, and tricks for stick and poke tattoos that there is also a rise in incorrect or potentially dangerous information, as well.

Unsanitary conditions or practices can lead to:

  • General infection
  • Allergic reactions
  • Staphylococcus (bacterial infection)
  • Cellulitis (potentially life-threatening infection)
  • Bloodborne contamination or diseases
  • Injury and scarring

This growing beauty trend could be potentially dangerous for your skin and immune health if not practiced correctly.

The Safe Way to Get a Stick and Poke Tattoo

Though you may be in a foreign country and considering a traditional tattoo to mark your visit, you should be cautious of a few things.

Handpoke tattoos should only be done in a sterilized and professional setting by a professional with extensive experience who follows all sanitary measures. A professional is trained and certified in the industry as well as the particular method of stick and poke tattooing.

Jamie Kim, a certified dermatology physician assistant, says, “Tattoo artists are trained to avoid cross-contamination and thus avoid causing infections and spreading bloodborne pathogens such as Hepatitis B and C. Even though you might think you’re sterilizing your equipment with alcohol, sometimes it’s not enough to destroy certain bacteria and viruses”

Our Final Thoughts

If stick and poke tattooing is something you wish to have done, the safest way to do so is to get it from a professional artist with experience in the method. Though it may be tempting to save a few bucks and get a handpoke tattoo from your friend, or to do your own in your bedroom, you put your health and your skin at risk.

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