Can You Have Tattoos In The Military? Understanding Policies

Did you know that 64% of soldiers who signed up for the military had existing tattoos before entering active duty service? Given that many service members have tattoos, does it mean having tattoos won’t prevent you from enlisting in the US military?

The truth is it depends. If you’re interested in serving the nation through military service, you should familiarize yourself with military tattoo policies. While body art won’t automatically disqualify you from becoming a service member, not all kinds of tattoos are allowed in the Armed Forces. This article is a helpful guide on the existing tattoo policy in the Armed Forces.

A person in military uniform with tattoo extending a handshake against a dark background.

General Rules on Tattoos or Body Art

Each military branch has its own appearance and tattoo policies. These policies specify the size, type, and location of tattoos allowed in that specific service branch.

However, all military service branches are consistent regarding the content of permitted tattoos. Service members aren’t allowed to have tattoos that show graphic violence, nudity, vulgarity, or any sentiments that are anti-government, elitist, or racist.

Army Tattoo Policy

Updated in 2022, the Army Tattoo Policy is considered one of the most stringent policies in the Armed Forces. In general, indecent, racist, sexist, violent, or vulgar tattoos aren’t allowed in the Army.

According to the Army Tattoo Policy, tattoos on the head, face, neck above the t-shirt collar, wrists, or hands other than one ring tattoo per hand are prohibited. Leg tattoos must be two inches above or below the knee. Even small tattoos aren’t exempted from this particular rule.

Only women are allowed to have permanent makeup done. Moreover, the tattoos must be conservative. At the end of the day, commanding officers are authorized to determine whether a tattoo is acceptable.

Navy Tattoo Policy

Updated in 2016, the Navy is considered the most lenient among the different service branches. The only parts that are off-limits to Navy military personnel are the head, face, and scalp. Tattoos on the torso are permitted but must not be visible underneath whites.

The Navy prohibits tattoos that have discriminatory, indecent, racist, or supremacist elements. Sexually explicit images or tattoos that promote lawlessness and violence aren’t allowed, too. Ultimately, commanding officers are authorized to say whether a tattoo is acceptable.

Air Force Tattoo Policy

The Air Force Tattoo Policy was updated in 2023 as part of its effort to adapt to the changing culture and welcome people who express themselves through body art. As a result, the Air Force has become a lenient branch regarding tattoos.

Before, the Air Force officer tattoo policy enforced a 25 percent rule— tattoos on the arms, back, chest, and legs could be no larger than 25% of the exposed body part. However, regulations have been updated, permitting full sleeves and prominent pieces on the back or leg.

The content of one’s tattoos is also regulated in the Air Force. Tattoos shouldn’t be affiliated with any gangs or outlaw organizations, anti-government, graphically violent, racist, or vulgar.

Tattoos on the head, neck, face, scalp, and inside of the mouth are prohibited in the Air Force. When it comes to hand tattoos, one band ring tattoo is permitted. The Airman’s commanding officer is authorized to determine whether the tattoo is acceptable.

Marine Corps Policy

The US Marine Corps has a straightforward tattoo policy; this service branch is also the strictest. Marine Corps members must have their tattoos covered by their standard physical training uniform. Visible tattoos mustn’t exceed the Marine’s hand size, and officers shouldn’t have more than four visible tattoos.

Tattoos on the following body parts are strictly prohibited:

  • Area two inches or less above the center of the elbow and one inch or less below
  • Area two inches above and below the center of the kneecap
  • Area two inches or less above the wrist
  • Hands, except a single band tattoo on one finger that is no more than 3/8 of an inch thick
  • Neck tattoo

Coast Guard Policy

Before its update in 2017, the Coast Guard Tattoo Policy stated that serving soldiers’ tattoos shouldn’t be visible while in uniform. This meant that neck and facial tattoos were strictly prohibited. Similar to the Air Force, the general rule was that people weren’t permitted tattoos covering more than 25% of the body part it was on.

The updated tattoo policy has more restrictions on racist, vulgar, or gang tattoos. When it comes to chest tattoos, they cannot be visible more than one inch above the v-neck undershirt worn under the Tropical Blue uniform shirt. Neck tattoos and extensive tattoos on the upper chest are not allowed.

When it comes to hand tattoos in the Coast Guard, members are limited to one ring tattoo per hand, and this tattoo cannot extend past the first knuckle on the finger.

Interestingly, the Coast Guard permits its personnel to have blacklight and UV tattoos. They must follow the same tattoo restrictions as other body parts.

National Guard Policy

Recruits in the National Guard must follow the same appearance, grooming standards, and moral character as any “full-time” active-duty recruit would be expected to follow, but there are still rules that recruits have to follow:

  • Recruits mustn’t have tattoos on their wrists, hands, neck, or face.
  • The only exception to the hand tattoo rule is one ring tattoo per hand.
  • Under no circumstances will any tattoos that could be interpreted as sexist, racist, extremist, or indecent be allowed.

Where Are Tattoos Allowed or Not Allowed for Military Personnel?

A row of military personnel standing at attention in uniform.

Military tattoo policies vary per military branch, and each branch has the power to determine if a tattoo violates its policy. Generally speaking, here are the rules per body area:

  • Hands – strictly prohibited by the Marine Corps, Air Force, and Space Force; permitted by the Army and Coast Guard with limitations; fully allowed by the Navy.
  • Neck – strictly prohibited by the Marine Corps and Air Force; permitted by the Army, Coast Guard, Navy, and Space Force with limitations.
  • Head and Face – not permitted by all service branches
  • Arms and Torso – allowed in all service branches
  • Fingers – allowed by the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, Space Force, and Coast Guard with limitations; fully permitted by the Navy.
  • Legs – allowed in all service branches

Update on Army Tattoo Policy in 2022

Tattoo policies in the Armed Forces are not set in stone and have changed throughout the years. The most popular update to date is that of the Army.

As of 2022, Army recruiters permit people to have one tattoo on each hand as long as it doesn’t exceed one inch in length. Soldiers can also place one tattoo no more significant than two inches on the back of their neck and one inch-long tattoo behind each ear. Tattoos can also be placed between fingers as long as they’re not seen when the fingers are crossed.


If you’re interested in joining a military service branch, you should have a thorough understanding of what kinds of tattoos are allowed. Conducting due diligence is key to getting the job you want and the body ink you’ve been wanting to get. To verify the status of an active duty service member, sign up here.


Can I Join the Military With Tattoos?

Yes, this is as long as the content doesn’t violate the rules. The location of the tattoos matters, too.

Why Are Tattoos Not Allowed in Military?

Tattoos are allowed in the military. This is as long as the tattoos don’t violate the service branch a person is enlisting.

Is There a Limit on Tattoos in the Military?

Yes, there are limits regarding the content and placement of tattoos. This varies depending on the service branch.

Can You Have Tattoos in the Military in 2024?

Yes, you may have tattoos in the military. This is as long as the tattoos don’t violate the service branch’s policies.

Will Tattoos Disqualify You From the Military?

No, these aren’t grounds for automatic disqualification. However, you must follow the rules of the service branch regarding tattoos.

Can You Go into the Marines With Tattoos?

Yes, but this is as long as you respect the Marine Corps’ tattoo policies.

What Is the New Tattoo Policy for the Army?

The Army has become less strict regarding tattoos, specifically ones on the hand. Waivers are no longer required for certain tattoos.

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