Many members of the United States military have tattoos, but each branch of the Armed Services has a different tattoo policy.
Tattoos are incredibly common throughout the US military. Some members enlist with ink that they’ve had for years, while others get tattoos that honor fallen comrades or a particularly special assignment. While there is a long history between the US military and tattoos, each branch has specific rules that dictate what is allowed. Whether you have large amounts of ink or only a single tattoo, if you’re considering joining the military you should review the tattoo regulations for the branch that you’d like to join.
Current Tattoo Regulations For The US Military
Each branch of the military has a different tattoo policy, ranging from restrictions on the size and amount of a member’s ink, to limitations on tattoo placement. Many of the regulations are understandable – head, face and neck tattoos are universally prohibited, which ensures that military members are maintaining a professional appearance. Other regulations aren’t as straightforward, though. For example, the Marine Corps have banned full, half, and quarter sleeve tattoos, and the Navy limits the size of visible tattoos.
Content restrictions are consistent across all branches: designs that are prejudicial to morale, good order, and discipline, or that are of a nature to bring discredit upon the branch are prohibited. This includes tattoos that are sexist, racist, indecent, anti-American, political, gang related, or extremist group or organization related. The content restrictions are generally common sense, but remember that a recruiter may not share your exact opinions on what is decent.
Tattoos above the collarbone aren’t allowed, and an open collar uniform shirt serves as your guideline. If tattoos can be seen above the collarbone while wearing the uniform shirt, they’ll need to be removed. There’s also a rule about “excessive” tattoos, meaning any tattoo that is visible when in uniform that is larger than 25 percent of an exposed body part isn’t allowed. Airmen seeking certain positions may also be subject to stricter tattoo policies.
The Army has been busy updating their tattoo policies, especially when the 2014 regulation changes were met with intense backlash. Now, there is no limit on the size or number of tattoos that Soldiers can have on their arms and legs. Hand tattoos are generally prohibited, but Army members are allowed one ring tattoo per hand.
Along with the Army, the Coast Guard boasts the most lenient tattoo policy in the US military. There aren’t any restrictions on the amount or size of tattoos that Coast Guardsmen can have, and members can even have a ¼ inch wide ring on one finger per hand. Permanent eyeliner for women is also allowed.
Unlike the Coast Guard, the Navy regulates the size of your tattoos. Individual tattoos that can be seen when wearing a short sleeve uniform shirt cannot be larger than the size of your hand, with fingers extended and joined, and with the thumb touching the base of the index finger. If you have tattoos that are covered by the uniform, they can’t be visible through the white fabric.
The Marine Corps has the strictest tattoo policy of all the Armed Services branches. Hand, finger, and wrist tattoos are strictly forbidden. Commissioned and warrant officers are also limited to four visible tattoos while wearing the physical training uniform. Lastly, the size of any visible tattoo cannot be larger than your hand, with fingers extended and joined and the thumb touching the base of the index finger.
How US Military Tattoo Regulations Have Changed
Tattoos are becoming increasingly popular in both civilian and military life, and more people than ever are choosing to express themselves through their body art. This boom in tattoos has caused the military to examine and alter their appearance regulations, and many of the more restrictive policies have been met with intense resistance.
The Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Navy all rolled back their tattoo policies after receiving backlash from current and potential members. When the Army changed its policies, Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno explained, "Society is changing its view of tattoos, and we have to change along with that,” elaborating by saying, "It makes sense. Soldiers have grown up in an era when tattoos are much more acceptable and we have to change along with that."
On the opposite end of the policy spectrum, the Marine Corps’s strict rules have been a cause of frustration since 2010. The rules were set to be reviewed in 2015, but many people expect that the standards will only be clarified, not relaxed. Sergeant Major Ronald Green has said, "America ... [looks] for a certain image in the Marine Corps. We want to make sure that the image that we project is the image that America wants [and one] that the Marine Corps can live with."
What To Do If Your Tattoos Don’t Pass US Military Standards
If you’re planning to go into the United States military but have tattoos on your head, face, or neck, you’ll need to have them removed before you can enlist. Other tattoos, like neck tattoos that extend above the collar or neckline of certain uniform shirts, may have to be fully or partially removed. If you have inappropriate tattoos, it may be possible to cover the inappropriate design up with a second tattoo.
Covering up your tattoos with makeup isn’t a solution that you can count on; a more permanent solution is in your best interest. If you’d like to avoid skin damage that can resemble branding, you’ll also want to stay away from vanishing creams and other harsh methods of removal. A high-quality laser treatment from a proven facility is the best way to remove tattoos before joining the US military.
Zapatat Offers Steep Military Discounts
Zapatat provides affordable, professional laser tattoo removal treatments for everyone – combined with a military discount of 15% for active duty military members, veterans, and their spouses, you just can’t go wrong. Plus, you can still get the discount even if you aren’t active duty yet. You just need to show us a note from your recruiter, or have them give us a call.
For speedy tattoo removal, you’ll be very impressed with Zapatat’s ART™ (R20) Fast Tattoo Removal – the world’s fastest tattoo removal treatment. Just one session lightens tattoos by 50-85% with no scarring or side effects. Since each session is like 6-7 standard laser removal sessions, you’ll get your tattoo removed in fewer visits at a very affordable cost.
Learn more about Zapatat’s ART℠ tattoo removal treatment and our generous military discount – or, just call us at 703-248-0909 to schedule your free consultation at our Arlington and Newport News locations.
SMA explains Army's new tattoo policy. (April 1, 2015)
Marine Corps to update its tattoo policy after review. (August 21, 2015)