Although trendy, there can be serious health risks with getting a stick 'n' poke tattoo

Although trendy, there can be serious health risks with getting a stick ‘n’ poke tattoo (Rachel Surman/ Ryersonian Staff)

Lauren Lowther got her first stick ‘n’ poke tattoo when she was 15 years old.  Seven years later, she boasts seven of them on various parts on her body.

The 22-year-old film student, doesn’t regret a single one and loves how each tattoo has a specific – and often hilarious – story behind it.

Stick ‘n’ poke tattoos, also known as Do-It-Yourself (DIY) tattoos, are made from dipping a needle tied around a pencil into India ink – a type of permanent ink that’s sold for $7 in craft stores – and then “poking” the needle into the skin.  This type of tattoo has been practiced for centuries in countries in South America, as well as Thailand and New Zealand. Stick ‘n’ pokes became Westernized in the ‘60s and have skyrocketed in popularity ever since.

“I’ve just always loved tattoos and I see them as more of an art form,” Lowther says of her tattoos, each about the size of a dime and mostly clustered on her hands. “It’s a way to express myself.”

Lowther, who studied for two years at Ryerson before shifting to Sheridan College, went to a Toronto Pride event last summer with a group of friends when they all made the drunken decision to get matching triangle tattoos.

“It’s just kind of a funny story and it’s a really great memory,” Loather says, laughing as she looks at the tattooed outline of a triangle on her hand.

Lowther also has an anchor tattoo on her hand because she says it was easy enough to do on her own without paying the $60 needle fee at a professional tattoo parlor.

Peter Charmanis, a third-year new media student at Ryerson, also got his first stick ‘n’ poke tattoo when he and some friends were drinking before going to Nuit Blanche last fall.

“I just didn’t have the money at the time, so it seems (sic) like the best option” says Charmanis, who currently has two stick ‘n’ poke tattoos.

While DIY tattoos have become increasingly popular among students, little attention is given to warnings about potential infections and the cost of getting rid of the tattoos if needed. Nearby Precision Laser Tattoo Removal on King Street East even offers a 40 per cent discount with a valid student ID.

“It’s certainly fairly common to see (students coming in with tattoos) because let’s face it, these are permanent tattoos, but they’re not done by professionals,” says Mike McLaine, owner of Precision Laser. “So there’s a significant likelihood that the people getting the tattoos won’t be very happy with them.”

According to McLaine, students who typically don’t have a lot of money tend to have more of them because getting a professional tattoo is so expensive. The cost to remove a tattoo varies based on the size of the tattoo, but can cost roughly anywhere from $75 to $300.

Lenore Bromley of Toronto Public Health (TPH) told The Ryersonian she has never heard of stick ‘n’ poke tattoos, but she says this type of tattooing would not be recommended because of the risk of infection and disease.

Bromley’s largest concern was students sharing needles, which can result in serious blood-borne infections such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV.

“All needles must come individually pre-packaged and sterile … Placing needles under a flame, in the oven or even in a pressure cooker, does not ensure the item is properly sterile.”

While no infections have been reported to TPH concerning stick ‘n’ poke tattoos, Bromley strongly advises students to go to a professional tattoo shop and to visit for more information.

As for Lowther and Charmanis, neither have any regrets about their tattoos and said thankfully, all of their stick ‘n’ pokes healed with no issues.

“Tattoos are permanent,” says Charmanis. “So just be smart about it I guess.”


Rachel Surman was a news reporter for The Ryersonian. She graduated from the Ryerson School of Journalism in 2015.