It’s week whatever. Time doesn’t exist anymore. And in the lawless world of extended isolation and lockdowns, one novel effect has been the sudden collective delusion that we’re all actually secret professionals. We’ve got interior decorators on TikTok, artful hair colourists and fringe-snippers (Armie Hammer and Taika Waitiki wassup), actors pivoting to new careers as celebrity meditation teachers, and of course, suddenly everyone’s into sourdough.
What you probably should *not* decide is your hot new isolation career though? Permanent body modification professional. Stick and poke tattoos are, undoubtedly v cool. (We’re big fans of tiny lil tatts in general here at Syrup.) While changing up our appearance and experimenting with aesthetics is absolutely valid form of self care under coronavirus, this one is best left to the professionals.
What exactly is a stick and poke tattoo?
A real quick refresher, a stick and poke tattoo is a traditional method of tattooing that doesn’t use a tattoo gun and machine. Instead, a tattoo artist dips a needle in ink before inserting it into the skin repeatedly. You’re “poking” the tattoo into the skin by hand. It’s become increasingly popular in recent years and many tattoo artists draw cult followings through Instagram. Because of their popularity, and because you can’t always get to the artist you want, lots of people take mark-making upon themselves—stick and poke kits are available to buy fairly easily.
Lots of people, including friends of Syrup (we are a judgement-free zone up in hurr) also cite the memory-making vibe and sentimental reasons behind their affinity for DIY stick and poke tattoos. As cute as it is though, we’re going to have to recommend you make a friendship bracelet (or friendship sourdough starter) instead if you’re looking for a way to commemorate this iso.
“I completely understand that it can be special to tattoo yourself, or maybe hang out with friends at home and give each other tattoos,” Jenna Boume told Glamour. Boume is the New York tattoo artist better known as SlowerBlack. “But I don’t think it’s worth the risk of potentially getting a staph infection or hepatitis.”
Why you shouldn’t give yourself a stick and poke tattoo right now
Realistically, the worst thing that can happen to you when you DIY a haircut is that it looks a bit uneven. Dua Lipa’s chunky highlight dye job resulted in a bunch of hair breakage and an unintentional iso fringe, but as we’ve heard a million times, hair grows back. A stick and poke might seem like a relatively low-fi and casual way to scratch the tattoo itch, but you could end up with a lot worse than a crooked fringe. Think staph infection, hepatitis or a really ugly blown-out tattoo.
You might be reading this thinking, “Okay, but you don’t know me, you don’t know my disinfecting story!” And you’d be right. I don’t, but I am willing to bet you don’t have a whole damn autoclave for sterilisation. The thing about disinfecting and sterilising is that they’re two totally different beasts. While most of us, yes, do have access to isopropyl alcohol to disinfect needles and kit, that doesn’t actually sterilise them. Alcohol alone might not be enough to destroy the bacteria on needles.
As well as potentially contracting an infection, there’s also the risk of cross-contamination. Even with the most delicate stick and poke tattoo designs, blood is gonna be involved. A professional is trained and certified to be able to conduct machineless work in a way that avoids cross contaminations and potentially spreading bloodborne pathogens, your cool friend, uhhh *checks notes* bought a kit off the internet.
By the nature of a stick and poke tattoo (and any tattoo rn, tbh) you open yourself and your immune system up to way more potential infections. Our skin is the first line of immune defence on keeping nasty shit out of our bodies: poking and perforating it repeatedly can open it up as a highway for foreign matter, bacteria, viruses and fungi to enter the body.
Our healthcare workers and health systems are able to handle the pandemic sitcho relatively alright, for the moment. Now is not the time to roll the dice—or needle, I guess—on whether your bedroom has the level of cleanliness of a professional tattoo studio.
The other thing you won’t get with a home stick and poke tattoo? The talent and skill of a professional artist needed to avoid “blow out.” This is basically where the ink spreads under the skin and gets blurry—not what usually we’re going for.
Evelyn Shaw, a stick and poke tattoo artist also based out of New York explains: “Different parts of the body have different thicknesses of skin, so different amounts of pressure would need to be applied.” An experienced artist knows how to avoid blow out, but your practise run on an orange unfortunately probably won’t cut it.
If you do wanna experiment on your skin at home, can we suggest a few cute temp tatts instead? Or tide yourself over with a really drastic mullet. There are no rules. (Other than don’t give yourself hepatitis.)