TBH, if you had asked me a month ago what I thought was the most ~unhinged~ quarantine beauty trend, I'd have gone with DIY bangs (chopping your hair with kitchen scissors?! The horror!). Flash forward to today, though, and botched bangs have gotten a little competition: People are now giving themselves DIY stick-and-poke tattoos as the latest lockdown trend—and I (and, you know, the medical and tattoo communities) have thoughts.
Blame it on pure freaking boredom or on TikTok culture, but DIY tattoos are having a moment right now—and even celebrities are into it. "I've been having some tattoo withdrawals because I get them pretty consistently; it's like a hobby at this point," said Kaia Gerber on Instagram last week. "I missed getting them, so I actually gave myself a little stick-and-poke.
Meanwhile, on TikTok, a quick "stick and poke" search pulls hundreds of videos of hand-poked tattoos, most from the last four weeks alone, all showing gen Z and millennials giving themselves (and their friends) DIY designs—some with truly questionable results.
And even though hand-poked tattoos might look kinda intuitive and low-risk, they're surprisingly...not. So before you try the trend on yourself (!!), please just spend the next few minutes reading these v important notes from a dermatologist and a tattoo artist—i.e., people who actually know their shit.
Wait, what are stick-and-poke tattoos?
First thing's first: Stick-and-poke tattoos aren't just something your ex-boyfriend gave his friends in high school (no? Just me?)—it's a professional technique that involves hand-poking ink into the skin without the use of electric tools. "With stick-and-pokes, the needle is dipped into ink and then poked into the skin, so the tattoo is made entirely out of dots," says Peggy Des Jardines, co-owner of Friendship Tattoo in Denver, CO. "Because it's difficult to build solid lines with dots, the tattoo can sometimes look less solid or more dainty on the skin, though the finish is entirely dependent on the artist," she says.
That "imperfect" aesthetic is what attracts most people to stick-and-poke tattoos, though Des Jardines adds that "there are plenty of professional stick and pokers out there whose work looks like it could’ve been done with a machine." Trust: Take a scroll through Des Jardines Instagram portfolio or the #StickandPoke tag, and you'll immediately get the hype (I'm talking insanely intricate designs and clean-cut lines—all done by hand).
...And why exactly can't I DIY them?
While the technique itself seems simple enough to recreate at home, Des Jardines says the process isn't nearly as easy as it looks—especially if you want to a) avoid infection and b) end up with a design you actually like. "Preparing and executing a tattoo while also avoiding cross-contamination is more complicated and less intuitive than you might think," she says, "and more likely, the result will be a tattoo you're unhappy with—even though professional stick-and-pokers make the process look easy, I can assure you it's not."
And, BTW, dermatologists 100 percent agree that DIY stick-and-pokes aren't worth the risk (yes, despite how bored you are right now). "Tiny needle punctures may seem like no big deal, but that little trauma can lead to a life-long scar," says dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD, associate clinical professor at Yale School of Medicine, adding that keloids—aka thickened scars—aren't an uncommon result of tattoos.
"I'm almost afraid to utter the word anymore, but you also have to consider infection," she says. "Yes, bacteria and viruses can seep through open wounds causing a skin infection—and I'm pretty sure no one wants to end up in the hospital for tattoo trouble right now." Oh, and don't worry! There's more! You also have to consider allergic reactions, says Dr. Gohara, advising that people (that's you) "wait until after the pandemic for your next tattoo." You heard her: Just. Don't.
BTW: Stick-and-pokes are usually permanent
Here's the thing: It's hard to say how long a stick-and-poke tattoo will actually last when you're doing it yourself. A lot of factors go into the longevity and vibrancy of a stick and poke—namely, the type of needle and ink you're using—so unless you're cool with keeping your DIY tattoo for life (or, you know, watching it fade into some unrecognizable blob), you gotta wait until you can see a professional.
"Needles that aren't made for tattooing can give permanent results, but they also do more damage to the skin and can leave you with a low-quality tattoo," says Des Jardines. "Same goes for the ink: If it's not made specifically for tattooing, it will spread and fade in the skin much more quickly, possibly to the point that it's no longer visible."
If I still haven't burst your bubble, lemme try one more time: The DIY tattoo trend is probs not something you want to experiment with right now (or...ever?). "I know a lot of people care more about the fun of the process than ending up with a high-quality tattoo, but I actually get requests to cover up non-professional stick-and-pokes fairly often, so if you’re wanting the highest-quality outcome possible, I would recommend going to a professional," says Des Jardines.
Instead, why not take this time during quarantine to find and follow tattoo artists that inspire you, and when it's safe to make an IRL appointment, you'll have plenty of ideas to bring your next tat to life. Or, you know, don't listen to any of this and end up panic-covering that ish every morning for the rest of eternity. The choice is yours.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.