Military Tattoo Policies

Navy (NAVADMIN 110/06 as of 24 Jan 2003):

Four criteria will be used to determine whether tattoos/body art/brands are permitted for Navy Personnel:  content, location, size, and cosmetic.

  1. Content.  Tattoos/body art/brands located anywhere on the body that are prejudicial to good order, discipline, and morale or are of a nature to bring discredit upon the naval service are prohibited.  For example, tattoos/body art/brands that are obscene, sexually explicit, and or advocate discrimination based on sex, race, religion, ethnic, or national origin are prohibited.  In addition, tattoos/body art/brands that symbolize affiliation with gangs, supremacist or extremist groups, or advocate illegal drug use are prohibited.
  2. Location.  No tattoos/body art/brands on the head, face, neck, or scalp.  The neck area for purposes of this regulation is any portion visible when wearing a crew neck t-shirt or open collar uniform shirt.  In addition, otherwise permissible tattoos/body art/brands on the torso area of the body shall not be visible through white uniform clothing.
  3. Size.  Individual tattoos/body art/brands exposed by wearing a short sleeve uniform shirt shall be no larger in size than the wearer’s hand with fingers extended and joined with the thumb touching the base of the index finger.  Tattoos/body art/brands that exceed size criteria are waiverable provided they do not violate the content and/or location criteria.
  4. Cosmetic tattoos.  This regulation does not prohibit cosmetic tattooing to correct medical conditions requiring such treatment.  For the purpose of this regulation, cosmetic tattooing refers to medical or surgical procedures conducted by licensed, qualified medical personnel.

Army (AR 670-1 as of 19 Dec 2005):

Any tattoo or brand anywhere on the head or face is prohibited except for permanent make-up (paragraph 1-8b (1) (a)). Tattoos that are not extremist, indecent, sexist or racist are allowed on the hands and neck. Initial entry determinations will be made according to current guidance.

Air Force (AFI 36-2903 as of 02 Aug 2006):

Tattoos/brands anywhere on the body that are obscene or advocate sexual, racial, ethnic, or religious discrimination are prohibited in and out of uniform. Tattoos/brands that are prejudicial to good order and discipline or that are of a nature that tends to bring discredit upon the Air Force are prohibited in and out of uniform. Tattoos that are commonly associated with gang affiliations are prohibited both in and out of uniform.

Marines (MARADMIN 029/10 as of 15 Jan 2010):

  1. Tattoos/brands on the hands, fingers, and wrists are prohibited.
  2. Tattoos/brands in the mouth are prohibited.
  3. Individual tattoos visible in the standard PT uniform (shorts and t-shirt) will be no larger than the wearer’s hand with fingers extended and joined with the thumb touching the base of the index finger.
  4. Band tattoos not in compliance with paragraph 5b are prohibited.
  5. Tattoos/brands will not be visible or apparent on the feet or legs when wearing the service a, blue dress a/b, blue-white dress a/b, or the evening dress uniforms.  Exception:  formal inspections as prescribed by commanders and/or inspector general teams.
  6. Tattoos not visible or apparent without the use of ultra-violet lighting (black light) must meet the policy as set forth herein and iaw the references.

Added guidance applicable only to officers (commissioned/warrant).

  1. Officers are limited to not more than four (4) tattoos/brands visible in the standard PT uniform.
  2. Band tattoos exceeding a maximum width of two (2) inches are prohibited.
  3. Enlisted marines with previously grandfathered sleeve tattoos are not eligible for a marine corps commissioning or warrant officer program.  In other words, an enlisted marine grandfathered for a sleeve tattoo IAW MARADMIN 198/07 has no restrictions for reenlistment or promotion as an enlisted marine, but is not eligible to apply for the marine enlisted commissioning education program (MECEP), warrant officer, or any other enlisted-to-officer program.
  4. Prior to commissioning/warrant officer appointment, officer candidates will be rescreened for tattoos which are not in compliance with this policy.


a)      Sleeve tattoos:  a tattoo(s) that is very large or a collection of smaller tattoos that covers, or almost covers, a person’s entire arm or leg.  A half/quarter sleeve tattoo is defined as a very large tattoo or a collection of smaller tattoos that covers, or almost covers, the entire portion of an arm or leg above or below the elbow or knee.

b)      Band tattoos:  a tattoo which partially or fully encircles the circumference of the body part.  Officers are allowed band tattoo(s) with a maximum width of two (2) inches.  Enlisted marines are allowed band tattoo(s) with a maximum width less than one-quarter of the respective body part(s) (i.e., leg or arm) exposed surface while wearing the standard PT uniform.

c)       One tattoo:  a single tattoo is defined as one (1) or multiple tattoos spaced apart that can still be covered by a circle with a diameter of five (5) inches.  Tattoos spaced apart that cannot be covered by a circle with a diameter of five (5) inches are considered separate tattoos.

d)      The neck:  any portion above the collarbone in the front area, above the first cervical vertebrae in the back area, or otherwise visible due to the open collar of the short sleeve khaki shirt, without an undershirt.

e)      Excessive tattoos:  when the combined tattoo coverage on a particular body part(s), i.e., leg or arm, exceeds one-quarter of the respective body part(s) exposed surface while the individual is wearing the standard PT uniform.

Coast Guard (COMDTINST 1000.1B as of 31 Aug 2009):

  1. Location. No tattoos or brands on the arms shall extend below the wrist. No tattoo or brand, of any type, is authorized on the head, face (including inside the mouth), neck, or hands, except as described below.
    1. Neck. The Coast Guard Light Blue Shirt (as worn with the Tropical Blue uniform) collar serves as the reference point for the back and sides of the neck; i.e., no tattoo or brand may be visible above the collar of the Light Blue Shirt on the neck. In the case of a tattoo or brand very near the collarbone, a final evaluation must be made to ensure that no tattoo or brand is visible when wearing a v-neck undershirt and the Light Blue Shirt.
    2. Hands. Tattoos in the form of a ring are authorized on the wearer’s fingers (not thumbs) with the limitation of one tattoo per hand. The tattoo(s) will not exceed 1/4 inch width, will be in good taste and in compliance with the content restrictions in paragraph 5.c. of this policy. The intent of this policy is not to deviate from the Uniform Regulations, COMDTINST M1020.6 (series), which allows one ring (whether in the form of a tattoo or a piece of jewelry) per hand.
    3. Head/Face. Permanent eyeliner makeup in the form of cosmetic tattooing is authorized for female members. If worn, permanent eyeliner will be conservative, in good taste and complementary to the wearer’s complexion and the uniform. The tattoo(s) shall not be brightly colored, shall be no more than 1/8th inch width, and must not extend past the outer corner of the eye. No other permanent makeup is authorized.
  2. Content. Tattoos or brands anywhere on the body that promote racism/discrimination, indecency, extremist or supremacist philosophies, lawlessness, violence, or contain sexually explicit material are prohibited.
    1. Racist or discriminatory tattoos or brands are those that advocate the degradation of people based on race, ethnicity, national origin, or gender.
    2. Indecent or sexually explicit tattoos or brands are those that contain a visual image, the dominant theme of which depicts or promotes graphic nudity, including sexual activities or organs, in a lustful way. Tattoos featuring fully exposed nudity are prohibited.
    3. Extremist tattoos or brands are those that depict or promote extremist activities or organizations that advocate hatred, intolerance, or lawlessness (e.g., terrorist groups, neo-Nazis, skinheads, outlaw gangs, extreme political organizations with violent histories). Because some extremist/criminal groups and organizations exploit popular symbols (e.g., cartoon characters), care must be taken in evaluating such tattoos or brands so as not to implicate members who may have selected the tattoo or brand based on its artistic value rather than a hidden meaning. In these cases, a determination will be made based on the totality of thematic elements expressed by tattoos or brands elsewhere on the body.
    4. Tattoos or brands labeled violent or promoting lawlessness are those that depict extreme graphic violence, profanity, glorifications of drug culture, or markings that can reasonably be interpreted as anti-government in nature.
    5. Commands seeking additional information regarding the origin or meaning of potentially discriminatory, extremist or lawless markings may review the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Reference Guide “Hate on Display: Extremist Symbols, Logos and Tattoos”, 4th Ed., or consult the ADL visual database at www.adl.org/.
  3. Coverage of Area. In the case of tattoos, members are authorized tattoos with no limitation on size or percentage of coverage subject to the restrictions listed in paragraphs 5.b. and 5.c. of this Instruction. In the case of branding, no more than one brand, not to exceed 4” x 4”, is authorized subject to the restrictions listed in paragraphs 5.b. and 5.c. of this Instruction.

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