The risks of the stick-n-poke trend

Teenagers are taking tattoos into their own hands and homes

by Clementine Curtis, Staff Reporter

“Teenagers are known for taking risks and having less understanding of permanence.” (Clementine Curtis).

“Teenagers are known for taking risks and having less understanding of permanence.” (Clementine Curtis).

Over the past couple years, teenagers everywhere have been giving themselves “stick-n-poke” tattoos. A stick-n-poke is a small, permanent tattoo performed using household items like sewing needles and pen ink. Some teens take precautions such as buying sterilized needles and ink specifically for tattooing, but many opt to just use what they have lying around. 

Junior Ruby Palazza got her first stick-n-poke during her freshman year. Her friend asked if she would be interested in getting one, and she accepted, no questions asked.

“I thought, ‘hell yeah I want a stick-n-poke right now.’ I didn’t really want it, but I was bored.” Palazza said. 

Other students with stick-n-pokes shared similar experiences. 

“I don’t really remember why I wanted [a stick-n-poke], besides that my best friend’s older sister had one and I thought it looked cool,” an anonymous student shared over email.

On the other hand, Junior Robert Hanson had been planning their first tattoo for years.

“It’s a small heart on my left hand between my thumb and index finger,” Hanson said. “My mom has it and it always meant a lot to me… it was her first tattoo as well.”

Stick-n-pokes are easy to do yourself, and the materials for them are also extremely accessible, but sometimes unsafe.

“It was done with a sewing needle and ink from a pen which is so bad,” the same anonymous student said. “It’s so unhealthy, I’m kind of ashamed that I used pen ink.”

Palazza also mentioned using pen ink and a sewing needle with a lighter to sterilize it.

Teenagers are known for taking risks and having less understanding of permanence. Luckily, it seems that stick-n-pokes done with pen ink seem to fade or even disappear in a matter of months. Some teens don’t care about the quality of their tattoo in the first place, so the impermanence of a pen ink stick-n-poke is appealing. 

“You have to do multiple layers,” Palazza said. “I stopped at one layer and I just never went over it again. It faded really quickly.” 

Palazza’s given herself quite a few stick-n-pokes since then with the same materials, but just like the first one, they are all faded now.

“None of the [stick-n-pokes] stayed. I have a little scar on my leg, but it’s not noticeable so I don’t regret anything,” Palazza said.

Other stick-n-poke receivers are a little more particular about the inks they use.

 “We used india ink which is what I think you’re supposed to use, and a sewing needle,” said the same anonymous student from before.

Hanson not only put a lot of thought into his tattoo but also made sure to use the right materials.

“We used a sterile tattoo needle that came packaged and professional tattoo ink… the person who did it was also using gloves and we cleaned my skin with soapy water beforehand,” Hanson said.

He doesn’t regret getting his stick-n-poke.

Although Palazza doesn’t have regrets about the tattoos she got, she shared that she would not completely recommend these DIY tattoos.

“I would not recommend this, it’s pretty unsafe actually,” Palazza said, “They can get infected, and if needles aren’t cleaned and multiple people are using them you can get diseases, but teenagers don’t think about these things.” 

Palazza also mentioned that if done properly she understands why teens are getting stick-n-pokes, especially because they can’t legally get tattoos.

Hanson mentioned that it’s a decision teens should put a little bit of thought into. He said that if participants use sterile needles and ink with a safe ingredient list, then there’s no reason why they shouldn’t get one.

“If you use the right materials like I did, it’s going to be there for nine to 11 years so it’s a big decision to make,” Hanson said, “Do something fun, something that makes you smile when you look at it. Make the decision when you are sober.”

Teenagers are going to do whatever they want with their bodies, safe or not. Still, it’s important to be safe when you’re putting something on your body permanently, especially when doing it wrong can come with health risks.

“They don’t really seem worth it when you’re a teenager and could just wait a few years to get a professional tattoo,” said the anonymous student, “but I think that ultimately everyone decides what they want to do with their bodies.”