After 5 years in business, I think I have enough data to say that “yes” if done safely, stick and poke tattoos are safe.

My first year selling these kits, I was honestly not sure. I knew only that people needed access to the supplies to do stick and pokes at least “safer” than they were currently doing them. A sewing needle and india ink doesn’t seem safe. Even so, I hadn’t heard any horror stories of infection using these primitive means. Now, after years of experience interacting with thousands of first time tattooers and talking to to health professionals and tattoo artists – both professional artist and casual/DIY artists, I can say confidently that anyone can do a tattoo at home that will avoid infection and spread of blood borne pathogens. And – it’s not that scary. It is certainly not surgery. It’s no wonder the ancient civilizations on every continent had a strong tattoo culture.  It was low risk cultural hazard safety

It’s funny, because when I first made the kit I was like “OMG, everything MUST be sterile!” I took pains to get sterile tattoo gloves sealed in their own sterile bag. Have you ever noticed at a tattoo shop that artists are pulling gloves from a 50 count box of gloves? Those are not and cannot possibly be, sterile. FACT: these are the same ones phlebotomists use! That is another needle wielding, skin poking profession.

We have the false idea that the tattoo process is sterile. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anything – even sterilized stuff – once opened cease to be sterile. I watched a National Tattoo Association representative mis-inform the public on national TV (fake news! :-p) that a tattoo kit like this one is not safe because “everything has to be sterile.” I am not sure the guy had completed High School Biology, if you know what I mean. Do you want a person poking into your skin who does not understand the definition of “sterile”? The leader of all our country’s tattoo shop artists does not understand. Sterile is the absence of bacteria or all living things. Since those microscopic fuckers are everywhere: floating in the air, wriggling on our bodies and on all surfaces. Sterile things last for about a second, once opened to a non-sterile environment.

It’s true that tattoo shops need to be VERY vigilant to keep a clean space – much more than a home DIY tattooer. The reason being that tattoo shops have people coming in and out. Blood and fluids containing potentially HIV, Hep C is smeared about on shared equipment. HIV can survive 5 days in a dried smear of blood! At home, there are fewer smears of stranger’s blood everywhere. Therefore, serious blood borne pathogens are not the primary worry for the home tattooer – just infection or a reaction. Infection for a tattoo – especially a hand poke (a long, slow process, with less injury over time to the skin) is not likely. A reaction depends on the ink and the individual’s sensitivity level.

I recently shot a stick and poke instructional video (available August 2018 on our Youtube channel) and one wonderful interviewee is also a health professional – a Physician’s Assistant in hospital surgeries! They re-iterated what I knew to be true and it felt so good to have back up. First of all, a tattoo needle is not going through the skin. A little poked tattoo is not a major injury to the body. If you are even mildly safe, you will very most likely be OK. Your skin can take a lot. Have you skinned your knee? Scratched or poked your skin on accident? Tried to bathe a cat? …Ouch! But – if you are a healthy individual, it heals – even if there’s some dirt in there. Those prone to cat scratch fever and such (I have a friend…), should be more careful to clean the area pre and post poking. Aftercare also makes a difference.

Here is the real issue: don’t share needles, ink, supplies – that could lead to HIV, HepB, etc. Sharing is NOT caring! Don’t cross-contaminate, follow instructions and you will be good.

But….How can I be sure?

Over 15,000 of these tattoo kits have been sold worldwide. I have ZERO people sending me infection pictures. Yes, sometimes people’s skin reject the ink, or there is some strange reaction (rare) and people write in for advice. I suspect that the people who do home tattoos on themselves using the kit  (who are willing to pay $46 for detailed instructions and high quality materials) are the ones who will take care not to fuck it up by introducing bacteria or careless behavior. So, I cannot say that ALL stick and pokes are safe.

Stick and pokes done safely are safe.

Now the question: “Are all types of tattoos safe?” The real answer is…. well…it’s complicated. Tattoos are risks in themselves. Especially with zero FDA regulation on tattoo inks, we are putting something into the skin that has not actually been studied to be put into human skin. We know that tattoos have existed in all continents for thousands of years and no bad reviews then, so – what the hell let’s keep doing it. Then we, the ever-evolved version of our ancestors, make very bright ink colors using synthetic new materials, glow in the dark, glow in UV light. These inks may contain the same pigments used to make for car paint.

So, “safe” is a relative word. Modern, colorful tattoos are likely a long term risk. On the flip side: Tattoos are saying to the world,

“I know this tattoo is insanely beautiful and also probably toxic and I’m going to do it anyways. Carpe Diem mother-truckers!”

I sell tattoo ink that is tested by a lab in Germany (we all know the EU cares more than the US, right? OK.), therefore less like car paint in your skin. But really, who wants to delve into that can of worms? Can we just agree that putting a dense neon pink donut with glow in the dark sprinkles on your bum is NOT GOOD for you. It is potentially taking some years off your life. But who needs those last few years when you’re getting into the 90s and all your friends are dead? Just re-watching re-runs of Buffy The Vampire Slayer day after day…(“push me to the edge, all my friends are dead…)

To review:

  1. Hand poke/stick and poke tattoos are time-tested (ancient) and as safe if not safer than any other tattoo.
  2. Most tattoos are safe for the short-term. Are modern tattoos safe in the long–term? WHO REALLY KNOWS, PROBABLY NOT THO.
  3. The stick and poke tattoo kit contains everything you need to do a safe-for-now tattoo.