The United States Air Force has grooming standards in place, just like every other branch of the U.S. Military.
The Air Force enforces different standards for haircuts, including the style and length of hair.
Additionally, the U.S. Air Force also enforces guidelines regarding facial hair for men, as well as body piercings for all airmen.
The U.S. Air Force has an official policy known as AFI 36-2903 for Dress and Personal Appearance of Air Force Personnel.
It outlines everything you need to know about Air Force dress code and grooming expectations.
The outline intends to present standards as to what is deemed acceptable and not acceptable while in any Air Force uniform or civilian clothing in an official capacity.
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The guidelines in AFI 36-2903 note that the Air Force grooming standards listed in the policy are minimum standards that represent common appearance and are not all-inclusive.
Commanders are allowed to exercise discretion when dealing with dress code and personal appearance, yet not waive appearance standards listed in AFI 36-2903.
In this article, we will examine Air Force hair regulations and other Air Force grooming standards.
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Air Force Hair Regulations
Though the U.S. Air Force recognizes that Airmen have the right, within established limits, to express their individuality, there are still guidelines that must be met in order to establish the appearance of one cohesive, organized military unit.
As a result, Air Force hair regulations were put in place to determine what is considered acceptable or not acceptable for the professional appearance of an Air Force service member.
Air Force Hair Regulations – Men
- The Air Force maintains that the Airman’s hair must be clean, well-groomed, present a professional appearance, and allow proper wear of headgear, and other military-assigned equipment.
- Hair must not contain an excessive amount of grooming aids like hair gel or mousse.
- Hair must not appear lopsided but can have one straight-line part on either side of the head
- Airmen are now allowed to dye or bleach their hair differently from what they were born with, but it still must remain a natural hair color. Examples would include brown, blonde, natural red, black, and gray.
- Hair must have a tapered appearance on both sides as well as the back of the head, both with and without headgear. Tapered hairstyles are labeled as those that when viewed from any angle outline the hair of the soldier so that it conforms to the shape of the head, as well as curves inward.
- Hair is not allowed to exceed 2.5 inches in bulk, regardless of length, and not longer than 1/4 inch at the termination point.
- Hair near the neck may not touch the collar. It also may not touch the ears or protrude under the front band of headgear.
To further expand on the new change to grooming standards regarding hair dye, certain colors are listed as prohibited.
Artificial colors like purple, orange, bright red, or neon colors are not authorized. The list is not all-inclusive, and as previously noted, discretion is given to the Commander.
In general, cleanly shaven heads, flat-tops, or military high-and-tight hairstyles are by far the most popular with U.S. Air Force male soldiers.
Flashy hairstyles like Mohawks, mullets, or dreadlocks are not allowed for men only.
Air Force Hair Regulations – Women
- Female service members must also maintain hair that is clean, well-groomed, presents a professional appearance, and allows proper wear of headgear or other military-assigned equipment.
- There is no minimum hair length, but a maximum bulk of four inches from the scalp except when gathered at the back. Recent changes allow hair to extend up to 6 inches on either side from the center point when secured at the back.
- These regulations are enforced to allow proper use and fitting of headgear.
- Women are now allowed to wear their hair in a single ponytail or one to two braids, with the length not exceeding the top sleeve inseam at the underarm.
- Bangs or side-swiped hair may now touch either eyebrow, but may not cover the eyes.
- Longer hair is to be pinned up as long as it is secured and does not extend upward on the head.
It is difficult to cover every single female hairstyle in one policy though there are some more common ones that are addressed.
Regulations On Buns And Ponytails
Hair in a bun is allowed, so long as it is only one bun as well as no wider than the width of the head.
All loose ends must also get tucked in and secured.
Ponytails are also authorized.
Once again, it must only be a single ponytail and one that does not exceed the bulk and length standards of the U.S. Air Force. For ponytails, the hair can extend up to 6 inches from the center point where gathered at the nape of the neck.
The underlining rule of all-female hairstyles in the Air Force is they must present a “neat and professional image”.
If you can follow that golden rule, along with other Air Force hair regulations you should be okay.
Hair Accessories, Braids, and Extensions
Hair accessories (hairpins, combs, clips, headbands, etc) are authorized if they match the present hair color or are black in color.
The accessory must also not alter the hair enough that it would no longer comply with bulk and appearance expectations.
Braids are permitted with specific requirements.
Hair extensions can only be used if they match the natural hair color.
The Air Force defines these hairstyles as authorized if “conservative” and “within reasonable limits”.
Hairstyles may not be “excessive or extreme”.
Wigs and hairpieces have specific standards as well.
For more details on specialized hairstyles or accessories, please review the full manual.
Air Force Beard and Mustache Regulations
Air Force facial hair is also regulated by the branch of the military.
It’s similar to the expectations you would find with other departments of the U.S. Military.
Male Airmen are allowed to have mustaches.
The Air Force specifies that they must “be conservative, moderate, being within reasonable limits, not excessive or extreme, and will not extend downward beyond the lip line of the upper lip.”
Air Force mustache regulations also note that the facial hair must not extend sideways beyond a vertical line drawn upward from both corners of the mouth.
Here’s a graphic demonstrating exactly how it should look:
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Sideburns are also permitted if they have a straight appearance with an even width.
They also may not extend below the bottom of the orifice of the ear opening. Sideburns must also end in a clean-shaven horizontal line.
While sideburns and mustaches are acceptable forms of facial hair, the U.S. Air Force only allows beards for medical reasons or for a religious accommodation.
Air Force Piercing Policy
Visible body piercings are not allowed according to Air Force grooming standards.
According to official Air Force policy, members are prohibited from:
“attaching, affixing, or displaying objects, articles, jewelry, or ornamentation to or through the ear, nose, tongue, eyebrows, lips, or any exposed body part.”
The rules exist for anything that would be visible through a military uniform, or civilian attire while on official duty.
Both male and female airmen can sport ear piercings, but only women are permitted to wear earrings when in uniform or when in civilian clothing and on duty.
The Air Force recently lightened up its stance on body piercings last year in line with the what U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps have done recently regarding body appearance.
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According to the new standards, male Airmen may wear earrings even while on base, yet only in civilian attire and while not performing any military duty.
Female Air Force members are authorized to wear earrings with several limitations.
However, like men, the regulations have recently been eased, giving women more discretion with their earrings.
The Air Force has increased its approval of a wider range of ear jewelry that is authorized.
Previously female members could only wear round stud earrings in white diamond, gold, white, white pearl, or silver while in uniform.
The new rules designate that square studs are also permitted.
However, they are still limited to wearing only one set of earrings that “match and fit tightly without extending below the earlobe.”
Both male and female Airmen can wear transparent piercing spacers in their ear piercings when in uniform.
Other Grooming Standards
What else do you need to know about Air Force grooming standards?
Here is a quick breakdown of other considerations regarding male and female appearance:
Mail Airmen are expected to closely maintain their fingernails as well as keep them clean.
Nails must not inhibit the ability to perform any Air Force assigned duty.
Men are not authorized by the Air Force to wear nail polish.
The standards provided by the U.S. Air Force do not specifically address the rules regarding male fragrances, like cologne.
The general rule is so long as the scent is not overpowering and distracting, it is allowed.
Cosmetics are only allowed for female members.
They may wear makeup as long as it is applied conservatively as well as “in good taste”.
Like most personal appearance items in the U.S. Military, moderation and simplicity are encouraged.
Female Airmen may wear lipstick as long as the shade of the cosmetic does not detract from the uniform.
“Extreme colors” are prohibited like gold, purple, blue, black, bright red, or fluorescent colors.
Fingernails must also not exceed 1/4 inch in length beyond the tip of the finger.
They must not also restrict or prevent a service member from doing their assigned duties.
Women may wear nail polish as long as it’s a single color. White French-tip manicures are authorized, but other two-tone colors are not.
It must not distinctly contrast with the skin complexion or detract from the uniform.
Like lipstick, “extreme color” nail polishes are not permitted.
We actually have a full article on the Air Force Tattoo Policy here.
Read that article to get the most up-to-date info on what tattoos you can have, and which ones you can’t!
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It’s a safe and convenient alternative to expensive visits to a laser tattoo removal professional service.
Perfumes / Fragrances
Like men, perfumes and other fragrances are not directly regulated by the Air Force.
The best advice is to use them in moderation.
Just make sure the scent is not overpowering, or else you may hear about it from a higher ranking officer.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are haircuts necessary in the Air Force?
Absolutely. Not only do they shave your head in boot camp, but you’ll need to meet certain standards while you’re actively serving in the Air Force.
Can you have a beard or mustache?
While beards of any kind are not allowed, except under certain circumstances, the Air Force does allow mustaches. They need to be neatly maintained and meet certain criteria. All of this is discussed in detail in the article above.
Are women allowed to wear ponytails?
The Air Force allows women to have ponytails. With that said, there are certain restrictions as to the style and length of the ponytail.
Are dreadlocks allowed?
Men are not allowed to have dreadlocks in the Air Force. However, under certain conditions, women can have locks.
Air Force hair regulations and grooming standards are enforced to present a professional-looking, well-organized military branch.
Aside from a few minor variations between the two genders, Air Force personnel are expected to comply with the same personal appearance standards.
Supervisors have the responsibility to determine compliance with Air Force grooming standards when not explicitly stated in AFI 36-2903.
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