Here’s What to Consider Before Getting an Edgy Stick-and-Poke Tattoo

Experts share if it's safe, if it hurts, and how to care for one.

If you like tattoos that look organic or slightly imperfect, consider getting a stick-and-poke tattoo—a style of tattooing that sounds exactly as the name suggests. “Stick-and-poke tattoos are a form of tattooing that relate to the ancient ways of tattooing,” explains Gianna Caranfa, owner of New York-based Bee Inked Tattoo Parlor

Tebori, a form of stick-and-poke tattooing, originates from Japan and translates to hand-carved, has been done since the 1800s. Needles made from cactus were also used by indigenous people in the Southwestern parts of North America nearly 2,000 years ago.

Stick-and-poke tattoos have gained popularity in the mainstream as people love them for their DIY-vibe and hand-drawn aesthetic. If you’re into it, here’s what you need to know before committing to this method of tattooing.

What are stick-and-poke tattoos?

Essentially, stick-and-poke tattoos are tattoos done without an electric machine, says Rosa Bluestone Perr, a New York-based professional stick-and-poke tattoo artist. Traditionally, the materials used are the same as in any other tattoo, such as needles and ink, she explains. However, instead of using a machine, a single needle is used to poke holes within the skin, and then ink is rubbed into the open wound, says Caranfa. Stick-and-poke tattoos are safe as long as it’s done by a professional, done in a clean environment, and performed with sterilized tools. 

Do stick-and-poke tattoos hurt?

Pain is all relative, so we can’t definitely say whether or not this style of tattooing hurts more or less. Perr says, “most people agree that stick-and-poke tattoos hurt less than machine tattoos because they are less abrasive and less invasive than machine tattoos.” However, Caranfa says that because stick-and-poke tattoos take more time to complete compared to machine tattoos they may make your body feel tender for a while, especially if you’re getting a big or detailed tattoo.

How long do stick-and-poke tattoos last?

“If done correctly by a professional, they last as long as a normal tattoo,” says Caranfa. Professionals know the proper depth the needle should go into the skin for stick-and-poke tattoos. Therefore, she explains that if you don’t go to someone well-versed in this style of tattooing, you run the risk of them only scratching the surface, resulting in a tattoo that fades quickly.

What’s the best way to care for stick-and-poke tattoos?

According to Perr, stick-and-poke tattoos are low maintenance and no different than caring for any other tattoo. “Cover the tattoo for two hours after getting it done and then let it breathe,” she says. “After removing the bandage, lightly wash the tattoo with a gentle, unscented cleanser and moisturize with something like coconut oil or Aquaphor.” Avoid soaking the tattoo in water for about two weeks and always keep it moisturized, she adds.