Can You Have Tattoos in the Military?

If you’ve ever considered joining a branch of the armed services you know that there are strict guidelines you must meet. From education to age requirements to fitness tests, there are various requirements for enlisting. However, one of the most common questions people have is if you can have tattoos in the military.

Every branch has its own rules, some more strict than others, which means if you already have some ink you’ll need to do some extra digging to see what’s allowed. The armed forces of the United States are made up of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Space Force, and the Coast Guard. Additionally, the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard are reserve components of their services and operate in part under state authority.

For this article, we’ll be focusing exclusively on the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, and the Coast Guard.

So, does the military allow tattoos?

The simple answer: there is no simple answer. It all depends, and although military tattoo regulations and policies are liable to be modified each year, take a look below for a quick guide on current military tattoo policies per branch.

  • Tattoos in the Army: The Army has a pretty straightforward tattoo policy that can easily be tested by simply putting on a long-sleeve shirt. Can you see your tattoos with the long sleeves on? If so, then they’re likely not allowed. Arms, legs, torso, back, and some other body parts are permitted. One ring tattoo per hand is also fine. Content may not be racist, derogatory, sexist, extremist, or indecent.
  • Tattoos in the Marines: The Marine Corps policy is not totally restrictive, but it is more strict than the Army. Your tattoos must be covered by the training uniform (a crew neck t-shirt and shorts) and you may have up to four tattoos that are not covered by this area. However, these tattoos must be able to be covered with one hand and cannot go further than two inches above the wrist or below the elbow and within two inches of the knee. No racist, derogatory, sexist, extremist, indecent, drug, or gang-related content.
  • Tattoos in the Navy: One of the more lenient policies, tattoos in the Navy are allowed from the knees and elbows down, no matter the size. Navy members may also get neck tattoos, full sleeves, and hand tattoos. While size and location are more flexible, the content of the tattoo is much more regulated. Racist, sexist, extremist, discriminatory of religion or national origin, and illegal drug use related tattoo content is forbidden.
  • Tattoos in the Air Force: After reworking policies just a few years ago, the Air Force definitely has one of the most lenient policies. Those enlisted are allowed to have tattoos just about anywhere except the neck, face, head, scalp, tongue, lips, and hands.
  • Tattoos in the Coast Guard: This branch hasn’t modified their policy in over a decade, but allows for tattoos in most places except for the head, face, neck, and hands. Visible arm and leg ink must cover less than 25% of your skin.
  • Gray Area of Tattoos in the Military: One category of tattoos that may confuse some people are cosmetic tattoos (think permanent eyeliner or eyebrows). Don’t sweat it! These are currently allowed in all branches. Although you want to ensure they are natural-looking in color and shape as each branch has regulations against face tattoos.

Because much of these policies are up for interpretation it’s always best to seek feedback from a recruiter directly. However, if you already have ink and are worried it may not pass the military standard – you have options! For starters, active service members who enlisted before a new regulation don’t have to worry. However, if you add or alter a tattoo and it then violates new military tattoo regulations, you could run into some trouble. 

What can you do if your tattoo doesn’t meet military standards?

Laser tattoo removal is your best option for getting rid of unwanted ink that violates the military standard. While the military will not pay for your removal, many laser clinics offer military discounts. At MEDermis Laser Clinic we’re proud to offer 10% off individual treatments or an additional 10% off our discounted prepaid packages to all active military personnel.

Tattoo Removal for the Military at MEDermis Laser Clinic

While the military has become more accommodating and less strict on the subject of tattoos, it’s always best to do your research before getting inked and when looking to enlist. If you’re still not sure about whether to keep or remove your tattoo, we recommend coming in for a free consultation at our Austin or San Antonio location! We can discuss your concerns, answer any questions, and walk you through the process and what to expect to determine if laser tattoo removal is the right choice for you.

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