Why you shouldn’t give yourself a stick and poke tattoo right now

Stick and poke tattoos, for those who need a refresher, involved dipping a needle in ink before inserting it into your skin repeatedly. Imagine getting a tattoo without a tattoo gun. You poke the tattoo into your skin by hand. You can easily shop a kit on the internet, but experts advise against doing so.

With people attempting salon services from their homes right now, one thing you should unequivocally leave to the professionals is tattoos. Feel free to dye or shave off your hair. Give yourself a facial. But please don’t give yourself a stick and poke tattoo unless you are qualified to do so.

The idea is so tempting that it’s even crossed my mind. After talking to experts, I’m no longer tempted to give myself a DIY tattoo. Consider me scared straight.

Proper sterilisation is hard to come by

As Dr Claire Chang, a dermatologist at New York City’s Union Square Laser Dermatology, tells me, at-home kits aren’t regulated and may be unsterile or contaminated. Your first instinct may be to disinfect everything – including the needle – with alcohol as you’ve been doing so with everything lately.

However, your tools need to be sterilised, and alcohol may not be enough to destroy the bacteria on them because “disinfection and sterilisation are not the same,” says Evelyn Shaw, a tattoo artist from New York City known for her hand-poked work. An autoclave is needed for the later.

Allergic reactions are possible

Tattoo ink is also a common cause of allergic reactions, Dr Chang adds. Redness, itching, and blisters are some possibilities she lists off. In severe cases, you could experience dizziness, trouble breathing, and stomach pains.

The risk of infection should be avoided right now

Aside from having the right tools, the actual stick and poke tattoo process isn’t what you should be putting your body through right now.

The skin is the largest organ in the human body, Dr Chang reminds me. “It provides a protective barrier against environmental insults and trauma,” she says. “Using a needle to repeatedly penetrate the skin’s protective barrier can introduce foreign bodies, bacteria, viruses, and fungi into the body.” Now is not the time to willingly put yourself at risk of infections, such as staph and cellulitis.

You could create a “blow out”

When wielding the tattoo needle yourself, you also have the possibility of puncturing the skin too deeply, Shaw adds. “Different parts of the body have different thicknesses of skin, so different amounts of pressure would need to be applied,” she says. Over the past three years of tattooing, she’s intuitively learned how to do so to avoid what’s called a “blow out,” which is when the ink spreads underneath the skin and creates a “blurry halo image around the points of entry,” she explains. Like a bad at-home dye job, Shaw says she’s had clients make appointments with her in the past for her to fix the tattoos they gave themselves.

Cross contamination could happen

Let’s not forget blood is involved in tattooing, too. Before getting their licenses, professional tattoo artists have to get certifications for this specific part of the process to learn how to avoid cross-contamination and bloodborne pathogens, like hepatitis C. “You can put someone’s blood and plasma on something else and not realise it,” Tea Leigh, a New York-based tattoo artist known on Instagram for their machineless work, says. With this in mind, they even treat all blood like it’s infected to ensure the cleanest, more sterile procedure.

If you must use your skin as a canvas right now, consider painting your skin instead and start dreaming up your next tattoo from your favourite professional, licensed tattoo artist. I’ll be making an appointment with Mira Mariah the second I can.

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