A rise in "back alley" tattooists using unsafe equipment and inks has renewed calls from politicians and tattoo professionals to regulate the industry.
New Zealand First health spokeswoman Barbara Stewart raised the issue in Parliament yesterday, saying the country could be facing an "epidemic of blood-borne disease" - especially among those aged under 30 - if the industry was not regulated.
Tattoo artists spoken to by the Herald backed the stance, and hoped to work with the Government if a licensing system was introduced.
Ms Stewart challenged Minister of Health Tony Ryall about safety measures for tattoo parlours and the materials used.
Mr Ryall drew attention to a recent Environmental Protection Agency survey that found nine of 18 ink brands did not comply with EPA guidelines because of the level of heavy metals found in them.
The EPA introduced standards in 2011 which put controls on inks and set voluntary guidelines for managing and storing tattoo materials.
Mr Ryall said if those standards were not working, further regulation could be enforced.
Darryn Watkins of College Hill Tattoos in Auckland has been in the industry for more than 20 years and said the introduction of cheap imported ink worried many artists.
"Professionals use well-established brands of ink where it's not an issue, but in recent years a lot of imported products have flooded the market," he said.
A rise in "back-alley wannabes" in the last seven years jeopardised the reputation of established artists, he said.
"At the moment the whole industry is flooded with [them]. I would say out of all the people who have tattoo equipment in this country, about 50 per cent of them aren't in shops."
Brent Taylor, organiser of the Tattoo and Art Festival, said he also believed the industry welcomed regulation, but hoped to work with the Government to establish rules.
"Every good artist is for it."