If you are considering a career in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or even the Coast Guard, you need to know about their restrictions on tattoos. Each branch of the armed forces differs in what it will allow, but all of them have one thing in common: if you have certain kinds of tattoos, or tattoos that cover too much of your body, you will not be allowed to enlist. What’s more, even if your tattoos are within the range of what is permissible, they may end up hindering your ability to progress and be promoted beyond a certain rank.
Because of this, if you are looking for a fresh start so you can begin an active duty career, you might want to consider laser tattoo removal. While other options do exist in certain circumstances—such as simply covering the offending tattoo with something that complies with the existing regulations—laser tattoo removal is great option to help get you eligible to enlist.
As mentioned, tattoo rules vary by military branch. No matter branch you hope to join, tattoos on the face, neck, and hands are highly regulated (if not prohibited outright). Covering up a face, neck, or hand tattoo will usually not be an option. Most recruits with these tattoos or other tattoos such as sleeve tattoos, tattoos with sexist or extremist messages, and other tattoos that radically alter their personal appearance will benefit from visiting a tattoo removal clinic.
Many recruits wonder why the armed forces even care about their tattoos. While someone joining the Air Force or Marine Corps might expect to be required to put forth a professional appearance, someone joining the Army or Navy might think that—given the traditionally more rugged lifestyle of people in these branches—a tattoo on the hand or neck would not pose a big deal.
The reality of the matter is that the military is a place of tradition and high, uniform standards. Individuality is not valued like in our general society. Moreover, there are a lot of qualified recruits who meet the existing standards – so there’s little incentive to lower existing standards / regulations.
Tattoos that glorify sexism, drugs, violence, or extremist or indecent tattoos could pose problems for recruits. While some branches of the military will allow certain types of sleeve tattoos, many would-be recruits will find themselves being told to get laser tattoo removal treatment for these tattoos before they can submit enlistment papers.
Following is a brief synopsis of the regulations of each of the branches of the U.S. military. Keep in mind that just because you can enlist with your tattoos does not mean that keeping them is a good idea. One thing commanding officers consider when reviewing your promotion packet is the way you present yourself. As such, if you have neck tattoos or hand tattoos, they may suggest that you seek out treatment to remove them before they will approve your promotion to a higher rank. Of course, be nice to your recruiter as, sometimes, there may be some flexibility in their decision-making process.
Military tattoo regulations do tend to change slightly over time. So, while the below information is accurate to the best of our knowledge, you may want to double-check with your recruiter or another U.S. Military publication for the latest tattoo regulations.
Beginning in April of 2015, the Army regulations prohibit recruits from having tattoos on the hands, face, wrists, head, or the neck. In addition, some recruits who have tattoos inside the mouth will find that they are rejected even though the tattoos may not be obvious to a casual inspection.
The Navy regulations on tattoos are perhaps the most liberal of all the armed forces. Last updated in March of 2016, the regulations allow for tattoos virtually anywhere except for the head. Neck tattoos cannot be larger than 1 inch, and recruits can only have one tattoo on the neck (defined as anywhere above the collar). The only restriction on large tattoos on the arms and legs are that they cannot be visible through the recruit’s dress white uniform. As such, if you have overly dark tattoos, you might want to consider visiting a tattoo removal clinic in order to bring yourself into compliance with the regulations.
The Air Force prohibits neck tattoos, face tattoos, scalp or head tattoos, or any tattoos large enough (by themselves or in the aggregate) to cover more than 25% of the skin that shows up in any uniform. If any of your commanding officers feel that your tattoos are not in good order, they may initiate disciplinary action against you, possibly even requiring you to visit a tattoo removal clinic.
Although the Marine Corps is considered to be the most “rugged” of the armed forces, the regulations regarding tattoos are actually more restrictive than the respective regulations for the Army and the Air Force.
Commanding officers in the Marine Corps look for recruits with no tattoos on the scalp, neck, or face. The neck is considered to be any part of the body above the collar bone. While the Marine Corps will allow its enlisted men and women to sport a single tattoo on a finger, it cannot be larger than 3/8 of an inch. This covers most of the recruits who have had their wedding bands tattooed onto their fingers, but allows little else as a practical matter.
What’s more, although other branches of the service will allow half sleeve or even full sleeve tattoos (subject to certain restrictions), Marine Corps recruits cannot have these types of tattoos. Any tattoos on the arms cannot be within a certain distance of the elbow—and tattoos directly on the elbow are prohibited. Recruits with tattoos on the legs cannot have them within 2 inches above or below the knee. Finally, no single tattoo can be larger than your hand, regardless of where on your body it is located or whether it is fully covered by the uniform.
The Coast Guard requirements are very similar to the Air Force regulations (see above). If you are considering enlisting in the Coast Guard, you cannot have any tattoos on your neck, head, face, scalp, or hands. Further, tattoos on the arms and legs cannot cover more than 25% of the exposed skin in any uniform.
Some recruits think they can enlist in the military and then get whatever tattoos they wish once they have completed training. This is false. Commanding officers are always reviewing their servicemembers, and people who get tattoos after joining are still subject to disciplinary action up to and including administrative separation.
While cosmetic tattoos (also known as permanent makeup tattoos) are acceptable, they must mimic the natural appearance of the body. The most common illustration is getting an eyebrow tattoo in cases where you are losing your eyebrow hair for some reason. However, the cosmetic tattoo must mirror the natural color, shape, and size of the eyebrow.
Some people who get tattoos after they have enlisted find that the tattoos hurt their ability to proceed up through the ranks. When they are reviewed for promotion, they might find that their promotions are delayed until they visit a tattoo removal clinic.
Generally speaking, visits to a tattoo removal clinic will be on your own dime—the government will not pay for you to have a tattoo removed, nor will health insurance. Fortunately, we do offer special discounts for military recruits, active duty, and veterans – it’s our way of saying, “thank you for your service!”
If you are considering enlisting in any branch of the armed forces, and you have tattoos that you think could pose a problem, laser tattoo removal could be just what you need. Using the latest technology, we can work on your tattoo safely, quickly, and effectively.
We understand that it is a bummer to have a prohibited tattoo (especially one that you really like) and want to enlist in the military. Fortunately, with the advanced technology available today, even a tattoo doesn’t have to be forever and there is still a chance for you to enlist!
Your recruiter might have mentioned that you can get a waiver for your tattoo. While waivers are possible in some circumstances, you do not want to hang your entire career on the hope that you will get one. What’s more, even if you do get a waiver, you cannot be sure that the offending tattoo will not sabotage your career by hindering future promotions.
Keep in mind that tattoo removal can take some time, and may require more than one treatment session. As such, you should be diligent to plan accordingly when it comes to scheduling your tattoo removal treatment. Don’t wait until the week before you are supposed to visit the Military Entrance Processing Station (“MEPS” for short—the military loves acronyms). Rather, schedule your consultation as soon as you can, and we can help you get started on the road to establishing your military career.
It is common to have questions about your tattoos, or about the tattoo removal process. If you are not sure whether one of your tattoos will keep you from enlisting, be sure to talk with your recruiter and review the applicable regulations. If you have questions about laser tattoo removal, feel free to contact us. We are happy to sit down with you, assess your tattoos, and give you a realistic idea of the amount of time, cost, and the number of treatment sessions that it will take to remove them.