U.S. Air Force Tattoo Policies & Requirements

  • Written By Dan Hunter on December 8, 2019
    Last Updated: March 17, 2022

38% of millennials have between 1 to 6 tattoos, who make up 36% of military staff today. The US Air Force went over their tattoo policy once again to match the current demographics of the recruits.

Before Feb. 8, 2017, the US Air Force had a different policy regulating tattoos than the one they have today. You weren’t allowed to be an airman if you have a tattoo covering over 25% of an exposed body part — arms, legs, chest, and back. Today, things have changed for the better.

The new US Airforce tattoo policy allows tattoos on the back, chest, legs and arms with no size restriction. No matter the location, there’s no restriction on size. It doesn’t allow tattoos on the face, neck, head, tongue and lips.

Perception of Tattoos in the Workplace

In a perfect world, people would only be judged based on the quality of their work, but according to studies and trends, this isn’t always the case. 

People with visible tattoos have reported facing problems with work and job interviews. Studies show that tattoos and piercings impede candidates’ chances of being recruited. Others claim employees with visible tattoos might affect the company’s reputation and affect other coworkers.

According to the same studies, they found that only 4 percent of surveyed people said they faced discrimination because of their tattoo. This indicates this is all just an attitude or perception thing; there seems to be a lack of action and firing someone because of their tattoo.

If this is the case in the corporate world, what do you think is the case with those looking to work in the US Air Force?

New Policy Taking Place

Policies and trends keep changing according to how the world changes. That’s because young minds and new mentalities have taken over prominent positions at institutions like the US Air Force.

We believe that the Air Force changed the tattoo policy to meet the desires of airmen while maintaining the standards of a professional airman appearance. 

The new US Air Force tattoo policy eliminates the “25% coverage rule,” which stated that the tattoo size can’t cover over 25% of the exposed body part.

It updated the policy to open the opportunity for more applicants to join the service without thinking of their tattoo as a limitation.

The size of the tattoo is no longer in the equation. Airmen may have any tattoo shape or size they desire, including half or full-arm sleeves. Tattoos are allowed on the chest, back, arms and legs with no size restriction.

Tattoos are prohibited on the head, face, neck, scalp, tongue, and lips. For your hands, they allow you only one tattoo on one finger and one hand, which is a wedding ring tattoo. How cute!

The US Air Force determines whether tattoos reflect any of the following:

  • Considered as obscene under USAF guidelines
  • Extremist or supremacist
  • Gang-related
  • Discrimination toward religion or ethnicity
  • Sexism
  • Racism

The above list applies to all body parts, even if the applicant can cover it up.

In some instances, determining whether a tat implies any of the above isn’t easy, and so senior-ranking officers make the call on whether a tattoo contravenes policy or not. If you have doubts regarding whether your tattoo represents a violation, ask a recruitment officer.


What Is the Definition of a Tattoo for the USAF?

The Air Force considers any image, design or mark on the skin and any areas of the body punctured with an indelible dye as a tattoo. 

This includes any other form of body modification that’s detectable or visible under ultraviolet light. 

Do I Have to Pay for Tattoo Removal?

No, the DoD has confirmed that Air Force will not cover expenses related to tattoo removal.

An exception is only possible if an airman has been ordered to have the tattoo removed, for which they may receive financial assistance if they’re having difficulties paying for it. 

If you did have to get yours removed, the best is to go for laser surgery.

Disciplinary Actions for Unauthorized Tattoos in the Air Force

Service members who have unauthorized tattoos, brands, or body markings are required to remove them.

Airmen must perform the removal of tattoos at a medical treatment center on their own.

Airmen who refuse to remove the tattoo within the specified time are subject to a range of consequences, including, but not limited to:

  • Reprimand
  • Military justice action
  • School and assignment ineligibility
  • Administrative discharge

Final Thoughts

We consider the US Air Force tattoo policy update liberal when compared to those applied to other military branches and in other countries.

It’s definitely a positive step since the policy has opened up admissions to a wider community. At the same time, there are limitations to control consequences from inappropriate tattoos.

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