Both risks and rewards come with stick-and-poke tattoos


Junior Griffin Tuthill shows his stick and poke tattoo on his arm. “ [Stick and pokes] cause a weird connection. Whenever you look at yourself and see something your friend did, they still are with you,” said Tuthill.

Gabe Chang-Deutsch, Staff Writer

For many, tattoos represent a way to imprint important memories, stories and images into and onto their bodies. Others see them as a form of rebelliousness, an expression of teenage independence.

For almost all South students, licensed tattoo artists will not tattoo them, as it is illegal to tattoo someone under 18. As a replacement, many students get D.I.Y “stick and poke” tattoos. “When you’re a teen, stick and pokes are your only option, because either you can’t go to a tattoo parlor or you don’t have enough money,” said “Ronan,” an anonymous freshman.

A stick and poke tattoo is done with ink, either India or a pen and sewing needle. The needle is dipped into ink and then pierces the skin, leaving a shallow dot of ink. When the same spot is gone over multiple times, the ink will stay.

This method of tattooing is very cheap and easy to learn, which is one of its biggest draws. “I looked up the supplies you needed and noticed they were all at my house. That’s a reason I could get one,” said “Annie,” an anonymous freshman. However, many feel there are negative health and legal risks involved with it.

One risk is that the needles used can cause the spread of pathogens like HIV and herpes. Because those who give stick and pokes are not regulated by the state, there is no guarantee that needles are clean. “I would worry a lot about infection, because there is low sterilization. Infections such as hepatitis can be caused by unsafe needles,” said school nurse Jennifer Vaupel.


Some needles are not regularly sterilized. Stick and pokes can also open up infections. “There is such a big risk of infection if you get one and you can’t donate blood after getting one,” said “Annie.” Tattooing gives hundreds of microtears to the skin so that the ink can settle into the flesh. If the needle is not clean or the skin is not clean, bacteria slide into the microwounds and settles there, causing an infection. Since stick and pokes require many layers and perforations of the skin, and without proper pre and post care of the skin, infections can easily develop.

“People don’t know what they are doing. People use pen ink and random needles and don’t sterilize properly. You have to be very careful with it,” said junior Griffin Tuthill.

These health hazards are compounded by the criminal risks involved with giving stick and pokes, because giving a tattoo to someone under 18 is illegal. But, like many things, teens find ways to get around that barrier.

Friends and underground tattoo artists are often the givers of stick and pokes. But because of the legal risks involved, buyers do not always feel comfortable talking to a physician or nurse about infections that may arise. Much of the information they receive is not medical. “I had a friend who got [one] and hers isn’t infected. I’m probably going to just google [the health risks],” said ‘“Annie.”

Artists must also be more secretive, as giving tattoos to underage people can lead to fines and criminal charges. But even with the risks, many feel the benefits of tattoos outweigh the costs.

There is a social aspect to stick and pokes. Many are given by or with friends while hanging out or at parties. This can be a way of connecting and forming a bond literally etched into your skin. “It will make us closer. We can get matching tattoos,” said “Annie.” It is also very intimate to have your body and skin in the hands of a close friend.

There is also an element of creativity and aesthetic freedom associated with D.I.Y tattoos. “It’s a unique way to express yourself. It doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s just expression. I like the idea of having a permanent expression of me on my body. Others want it to be rebellious” said “Ronan”.

There is a lot of choice in the designs of the tattoos and their placement. This ability to very personally customize the art on your body is a huge draw to D.I.Y tattooing at South. “Stick and pokes give off some weird Tumblr vibes. A machine is easy but doesn’t have the same feel. Stick and pokes are a heritage thing.” said Tuthill.

Many youth fear parents’ and adults’ negative social reactions to tattoos. “Adults have an image in their head that tattoos are bad and unsafe. I would never tell my parents,” said “Ronan.”

Many parents do not want their child getting a tattoo for safety or legal or discipline reasons. “A lot of adults will open their mouth and say something without understanding it,” said Tuthill.  The ability to make D.I.Y tattoos small and in not very visible places, such as your chest and feet, gives students the ease of mind that they will not get caught. “I don’t like the idea of big tattoos. But, if it’s tiny and you can hide it easily, than why not? If I want people to know, then I can show them” said “Annie.”