There's a mystique that surrounds handpoke tattoos. For one, many handpoke artists are hobby tattooists, doing handpoke work on the side—their flash appointments, limited availability, and spur-of-the-moment nature have led to a growing fan group within the world of tattoos. But the other thing that makes them so appealing: It's a form of tattooing that's been around for ever, really. Essentially, it's the original method of tattooing. So even if it feels "trendy"—a trend, this is certainly not.
If you're considering one, here's everything you need to know.
What are handpoke tattoos?
Much like getting a traditional tattoo, handpoke tattoos use needles to impart the design on the skin. However, instead of using an electric-powered tattoo gun, the tattoo needle is powered by only the hand. The artist fills the needle with ink, and punctures the skin, leaving behind a pigment stain. The artist continues until the drawing is done (refilling the ink throughout). They are typically done "dot-work" style.
In its modern iteration, the designs have a distinctively different feel from other styles of tattooing—the minimalist approach and sophisticated placement make them feel less pervasive, modern, and even demure. Handpoke tattoos take much longer than gun tattoos because the needle is moderated by someone's hand instead of an automated gun, which lends itself to a more delicate look.
Pros of handpoke tattoos:
A simpler method.
Since all you need to do a handpoke tattoo is a needle, ink, and products to sterilize the skin and needle, it's a remarkably simple way to do a tattoo. This, of course, comes with its own downsides (safety concerns namely, which we'll get to soon), but as far as prep goes, it's fairly minimal. And this is a huge reason many people are drawn to handpoke tattoos: They feel more organic and back-to-basics.
More intricate and personal.
One way that that handpoke tattoos stand out from more traditional types is they and hand drawn, focus on delicate, unique designs, and tend to be more personal. If you are looking for a truly one-of-a-kind option, you should look into handpoke tattos.
Cons of handpoke tattoos:
DIY versions can turn dangerous.
The DIY aspect of stick and poke is what's concerning. Videos showing at home versions that have garnered more than than 3 million views, give people an understanding of how to do stick and poke on their own—but it's a process that can go horribly wrong according to New York City holistic dermatologist Cybele Fishman. M.D. "Unhygienic tattooing can lead to really bad infections with fungus, gram-negative bacteria, gram-positive bacteria, and organisms called atypical mycobacteria. Some of the latter require months of oral antibiotics and sometimes IV antibiotics," said Fishman, which is obviously something we want to avoid in the name of good gut health. To be sure, this can happen with a botched gun tattoo as well.
"My point is, you should take the same approach with a tattoo artist [as you would when choosing a doctor]," she says. "You want a professional who takes his or her work seriously and your safety seriously. You want someone who takes sterile conditions seriously. And don't be afraid to ask questions."
Any form of body modification can be painful, but handpoke tattoos, at least anecdotally, tend to be more painful than their traditional counterpart. This is because electric tattoos keep a steady and consistent motion with the needle, which isn't always the case with handpoke. Since the needle enters the skin more sporadically, you may feel it more acutely.
How to get one safely.
Let's be clear, we love tattoos and agree they are beautiful and can be a meaningful addition that brings joy and personality. Here's how to make sure they're safe:
- Make sure your handpoke tattoo artist is licensed. Requirements for this vary by state and even by city. In New York City, for example, tattoo artists are required to take a three-hour course on hygiene and pass a related exam in order to get licensed.
- Choose black vegan ink, and ask about other clean color options for colors.
- Ask them about their process: specifically what tools they use, how they sterilize, the aftercare they recommend, and whether they've had any clients who have contracted infections in the past.
- Keep it moisturized with clean, non-irritating creams. For more tattoo after care tips, check out our guide.
Handpoke tattoos are beautiful, meaningful works of art on your body. And when done carefully and thoughtfully are totally safe. Just be sure your artists is well-trained and abides by hygienic practices.
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.