How Long Do Stick And Poke Tattoos Last?

Homemade DIY tattoos may not look as pretty as ‘real’ tattoos, but plenty of young people are getting their fair share nowadays. But exactly how long do stick and poke tattoos last? A week? A month? A year? Forever? Read on to find out – and along the way, discover what you need to do to ensure your new homemade tattoo lasts!

What’s a stick and poke tattoo?

do poke tattoos last a long time - photo of girl with poke tattoo
A small hand poke tattoo. (Photo by Coline Hasle)

I’m sure you probably already have an idea what a stick and poke tattoo is. But if not, well, here’s a quick introduction. It’s a manual tattooing technique where you basically insert ink to skin using a needle (or similarly sharp-pointed object).

This tattooing style has been around for ages – probably since the beginning of time! Tattooing tools dating back to several thousand years ago have been discovered in various places around the world. And the oldest tattooed humans that have been found – Otzi the Iceman and the Egyptian mummies – are at least 5,000 years old.

This ancient tattooing technique has literally been around for millennia because the first tattoo machine wasn’t invented until the late 19th century. So, when you get yours done at home, think about our ancestors who’ve gotten their hand poke tattoos from the comfort of their huts and caves. They’d probably be thrilled to know their art has lived on and survived the test of time!

Do poke tattoos last? Are they permanent?

Poke tattoos can be just as permanent as any machine-made tattoo. It’s basically still the same process. But instead of several hundred pricks per minute from a tattoo machine, you’re maybe getting 10 or 20 by hand (which can be good or bad depending on your pain sensitivity).

What makes the tattoo permanent isn’t the technology used – it’s how precise the artist is at inserting ink in the right skin layer (the dermis).

skin layers
The layers and structure of the skin (Image source)

If the needle only hits the topmost layer (the epidermis), then the tattoo isn’t going to last very long because the epidermis cells renews and sheds every few weeks. When that happens, your tattoo is going to get shed along with all the dead skin cells.

If the needle goes deeper than the dermis and into the hypodermis (the fatty layer), then you’ll get what is called a tattoo blowout. The tattoo will basically look blurred because the ink will spread around the area instead of being contained in one location. The only way to fix this problem is to cover up the blowout with another (hopefully better) tattoo.

That said, for poke tattoos to last, make sure you or your friend knows exactly where that dermis layer is!

Do stick and poke tattoos fade?

what a stick and poke tattoo looks like
A couple’s hand poke tattoos. (Photo by Elizabeth Tsung)

All tattoos will fade eventually, but some of the ink may remain several decades later (this is why touch-ups are a thing). The truth is that the best your tattoo is ever going to look is right after it gets done.

A few days or a couple of weeks later, your tattoo will start looking a bit faded. This is because the epidermis layer shed, taking along with it some of the ink that got in that layer.

Another factor that speeds up the faded look is your aftercare regimen. Your tattoo can only look as good as your skin. So, if your skin’s a bit dry, your tattoo’s not going to look much better either. Moisturisation is key to a long-lasting tattoo.

The first couple of weeks post-tattoo is the most important part of the aftercare process. Now, a professional tattooist will give you a list of things you need to do to ensure your tattoo heals properly. But a homemade tattoo may be a different story. You’ll often need to DIY your aftercare as well and get help from the Internet or your more experienced friends.

Related article: Tattoos and Coconut Oil: Yay or Nay?

How to make your poke tattoo last longer?

There are a lot of factors that affect how long a poke tattoo is going to stay on your skin. Here are some of them:

  • Tattoo location

Some parts of the body just aren’t meant for long-lasting tattoos. For instance, the hands and feet. Our hands and fingers are subject to frequent washing and are often exposed to the sun, which is not a tattoo’s best friend. Meanwhile, our feet frequently rub against socks and footwear. Tattooing the abdomen may be a good idea for men, but for women, not so much, especially if you’re in your child-bearing years.

  • Tattooist’s experience  

The more experienced a tattooist is, the better your poke tattoo is going to look. They’d know the right pressure to apply to get to the right depth. An amateur, on the other hand, may hit the right spots but will more likely miss it altogether, and deposit ink too shallow or too deeply. And before you know it, you’ll be wincing in pain every time your friend stabs you the wrong way!  Not everyone knows the right way to poke. It may take a few tries before your tattooist gets it right.

  • Proper aftercare

Even the smallest poke tattoo needs some tender lovin’ care. It’s literally an open wound and is therefore a likely entry point for bacteria and germs to enter your body.

The first thing you need to do after getting tattooed is to disinfect the still-tender skin and wrap it with cling film or a clean bandage. Then after a few hours, wash the wound with warm water and antibacterial soap.

Here are the 10 best tattoo soaps to wash your new ink with.

At this point, you should let the skin breathe so it can start healing, so it’s best not to put on a new bandage. Then apply a thin layer of ointment like Aquaphor or A+D to protect the skin and still let oxygen in. Do this cleaning routine twice or thrice a day for a few days until it starts to scab.

When scabs appear, resist the temptation to scratch because you risk pulling the skin prematurely – and ink along with it! Right now is a good time to start putting some moisturising lotion on. Apply it once or twice daily for as long as you want your tattoo to look good.

Here’s why you should put lotion on your new tattoo.

While your tattoo heals, you should stay out of the sun and the water (showers are okay, just don’t go bathing or swimming in pools or the ocean). Don’t put anything or wear clothing that will rub on the tattoo while it’s still raw.  

Here’s an infographic on how you should care for your new poke tattoo:

infographic for tattoo aftercare

What’s the best ink to make a hand poke tattoo last longer?

While there are many different types of ink around, the most commonly used by college students are india ink and pen ink. Of course, ink made specifically for tattoos are the best choice, but some kids just can’t be bothered to rethink their options.

India ink is generally safe and fine for tattoo use, but pen ink? Absolutely not! Some pen ink are toxic, some may be ‘safe’ for tattoo use, but you’re not locked up in jail now, are you? Just so you know, prison is where the pen ink idea started. But really, there’s no reason for anyone to inject pen ink into their skin. The risks just aren’t worth it, in my opinion.

When to choose stick and poke over a professionally done tattoo?

A poke tattoo can look just as good as a professionally done one. But obviously, as you’ve learned earlier, there are a lot of factors that can affect the tattoo’s appearance. That said, here are some reasons when a stick and poke tattoo will make sense for you:

  • You want to try it out for fun

All your friends have it and everyone around you is getting one, so why shouldn’t you? Well, giving in to peer pressure isn’t really an issue, however, you need to make sure you don’t put your health at risk here. Before you consent, make sure everything is sterilised and the needles and ink holders aren’t recycled. Contracting a nasty disease from poor tattooing practices is an all too common occurrence nowadays.

  • You can’t afford to go to a reputable studio

The tattooing industry is heavily regulated, at least in the UK and the US. And getting tattooed by a registered professional isn’t cheap. So, it’s not surprising it’s the young ones choosing to go the cheaper route.

  • It normally heals faster

This is one of the things I like about poke tattoos. Tattoo machines have a bunch of needles that simultaneously penetrate the skin and insert ink. This obviously causes more damage to the skin.

On the other hand, poke tattoos are done one poke and one dot at a time. It’s a slower process overall, but your skin’s not as banged up which leads to faster recovery.

How to remove a stick and poke tattoo?

If you think getting a DIY tattoo is painful, then you’re in for a surprise. Getting it removed will be even more painful. Oh, and it will also be a costly experience. There are some homemade techniques, but this involves rubbing the skin raw, which isn’t a good idea.

The best way to get your regrettable tattoo off is by laser removal. If you don’t want to worry about removing the tatt later on, perhaps you shouldn’t be getting one in the first place. But, of course, mistakes do happen. Fortunately, laser removal is an option nowadays. At no time in the history of tattoos has laser removal been as popular as it is now.


Now that you know how long stick and poke tattoos last, it’s up to you to decide whether to get one or not. Don’t do it just because everyone else is. Do it for the right reasons – and maybe get an experienced tattooist – and you’ll be happy with the result.    

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