air force tattoo policy for 2020
Air Force

Air Force Tattoo Policy

Tattoos are not discussed quite as frequently in the Air Force compared to the Navy, where its origins begin.

However, the Air Force tattoo policy for 2023 is actually fairly loose and arguably as liberal as the new Navy policy.

It is important that you have body art that remains in compliance with Air Force standards in order to avoid disciplinary action.

Learn more about what is and isn’t considered acceptable under the Air Force tattoo policy.

The key takeaways from the 2023 Air Force tattoo policy include:

  • Airmen are now allowed a single-ring tattoo on each hand, no more than 3/8ths inches wide
  • In addition to ring tattoos, airmen may have one small tattoo on each hand, no more than 1 inch in diameter.
  • Chest and back tattoos are now authorized but must not be visible in an open-shirt uniform.
  • Neck tattoos are permissible but must be limited to one tattoo and be placed behind the ears (see image below).
  • Hand, arm, leg, neck, and ring tattoos may be visible in any uniform combination.
  • Tattoos on the face, throat, head, lips, or eyelids are still forbidden.

Here’s a more detailed discussion of what is and what isn’t allowed. 

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What Tattoos Are Allowed in the Air Force?

usaf tattoo policy 2019
The Air Force recently changed its tattoo policy to accommodate a larger recruiting pool. Image:

Recent studies have concluded that more than 3 out of 10 Millenials have tattoos and 4 out of 10 Gen Z adults have tattoos in 2023.

These two generations (born between 1982 and 2012) represent the recruiting pool for all military branches.

In accordance, the Air Force (along with other branches) has started to revise its policies regarding tattoos.

Related ArticleAir Force Age Limit

air force tattoos airmen
Airmen can have more ink on their bodies compared to previous generations under the new policy. Image: Joint Base McGuire-Dix

The Air Force tattoo policy for 2023 expands on the groundwork that was outlined under sweeping reforms in 2017 and 2022:

  • Removal of Size Restrictions: Airmen can have tattoos on their arms, chest, back, and legs without size stipulations provided that chest and back tattoos are not visible in open-collar uniform combinations.
  • Single-Band Ring Tattoos: A single-band ring tattoos are now permitted on each hand.
  • Hand Tattoos: In addition to ring tattoos, one small tattoo of 1-inch diameter or smaller is authorized on each hand.
  • Neck Tattoos: One small neck tattoo is authorized if placed behind the ears. (Throat tattoos are still forbidden.)
Source DAFI36-2903_DAFGM2023-01

As you can see, there are several more options for airmen to have tattoos while serving in the Air Force under the new policies.

Related ArticleHow To Join The US Air Force

air force tattoo policy
Airmen are now allowed to have tattoo sleeves on the arms. Image: Luke Air Force Base

Therefore, the Air Force tattoo policy is fairly loose with limitations no longer in place regarding tattoo size or placement.

In fact, the Air Force is the only military branch that also permits tattoos on the feet.

Airmen can sport tattoos below the ankle line, as well as one tattoo on each hand along with a ring tattoo on each hand. 

air force feet tattoos
The Air Force is unique in that it authorizes tattoos below the ankle. Image: Flickr

Therefore, practically every part of the body aside from the head and throat is fair game in the Air Force aside from a few stipulations.

Related Article: Air Force Ranks And Pay

What Tattoos Are NOT Allowed In The Air Force?

af tattoo policy
Despite granting more privileges to airmen, the Air Force still prohibits certain types of tattoos. Image:

Along with creating a more liberal tattoo policy, the Air Force also introduced defined locations that are not permitted in the military branch under the 2023 changes.

The Air Force does not allow tattoos on the face, head, scalp, throat, tongue, lips, or eyelids.

illegal military tattoos
Tattoos that are on the scalp or head are not allowed in the military. Image: Pexels

Outside of the seven body parts that are a major no-no, the Air Force essentially allows tattoo placement elsewhere.

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The second aspect of military tattoos that the Air Force assesses is the content of body art.

The Air Force, like every other branch, prohibits tattoos with content:

  • Considered obscene under USAF guidelines.
  • Associated with gang activity.
  • Extremist or supremacist in nature.
  • Sexist or racist tattoos.
  • Ethnic or religious discriminatory tattoos.

Inappropriate tattoos listed above are not authorized on any part of the body, even if the soldier can cover up the offensive content in uniform.

unauthorized af tattoos
An example of an unauthorized tattoo because it is gang-related. Image: Wikimedia Commons

It is difficult for the Air Force to list every type of obscene or offensive tattoo.

Therefore, commanding officers are assigned the privilege of determining which tattoos violate the Air Force tattoo policy.

If you are unsure if your tattoo constitutes a violation, you should bring the subject up when speaking to a recruiter.

disqualifying af tattoos
Another example of a tattoo that disqualifies you from USAF service. Image: Flickr

Waivers are sometimes granted to military personnel that would otherwise violate the USAF tattoo policy.

There are also options to get tattoo removal at reasonable costs.

Related ArticlePros And Cons Of Joining The Air Force

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

There are several questions that we often get asked on Operation Military Kids about the Air Force tattoo policy.

Here are some of the most common…

How does the USAF define a tattoo?

The Air Force defines a tattoo as “a picture, design, or marking made on the skin or other areas of the body by staining it with an indelible dye”.

It can also include other methods of body altercation that are only detectable or visible under certain conditions (i.e. ultraviolet light).

Tattoos also include brands and body markings under USAF standards.

Brands are pictures, designs, or other markings burned into the skin or other areas of the body.

Meanwhile, “body markings” are pictures, designs, or other markings as a result of using means other than burning to permanently scar or mark the skin.

Related ArticleAir Force Pilot Requirements

Can you have a full-sleeve tattoo in the Air Force?

Yes, under the changes in 2017, the Air Force now allows tattoo sleeves.

It is possible to have a half or full-sleeve tattoo on the arms or legs in the Air Force.

Previously, airmen were not allowed to have tattoos that covered 25% of their body, which largely made tattoo sleeves unauthorized.

However, the new changes have granted more leeway for airmen to represent themselves on the arms or legs without violating the Air Force tattoo policy.

Can you have throat/face/hand tattoos in the Air Force?

No, tattoos on the face and throat are not permitted. 

Tattoos on the back of the neck, however, are now authorized in the 2023 USAF policy.

Hand tattoos are permitted but restricted to one small tattoo per hand under 1 inch in diameter. 

Airmen are also allowed to have one full-band ring tattoo on each hand.

Tattoos anywhere on the face, head, and throat are not permitted. 

You can use the T-shirt test to determine if you have any tattoos that would violate the current Air Force tattoo policy.

Any tattoos that are visible over the T-shirt collar from the front are violations of the Air Force tattoo policy for 2023.

Will the Air Force pay to remove tattoos?

The Department of Defense recently passed rules that stipulate the military will not cover expenses related to tattoo removal.

The only exception is if a commanding officer orders the removal, in which case the soldier may potentially receive compensation if he or she is struggling to finance the operation.

Your best bet to get a tattoo removed the “right” way is laser surgery from a qualified laser tattoo removal treatment facility.

With that said, we have reviewed alternative Laser Pen Kit Removal options in the past, with limited success.

Are Air Force officers allowed to have tattoos?

Yes, under the new Air Force tattoo policy, officers are held to the same standards as enlisted personnel.

Therefore the same expectations toward what tattoos are and are not authorized for enlisted members also applies to officers.

Related ArticleHow To Get Into The Air Force Academy

What are the disciplinary actions for having an unauthorized tattoo in the Air Force?

According to the Air Force tattoo policy, service members who have or receive unauthorized tattoos, brands, or body markings are required to initiate removal or alteration.

Airmen may have the opportunity to receive tattoo removal at a medical treatment facility or must do so on their own accord.

Airmen who refuse to remove or alter unauthorized body art in a timely manner are subject to a variety of appropriate quality force actions.

It includes but is not limited to reprimand, UIF, control roster, referral EPRs/OPRs, military justice action, ineligibility for schools and assignments, or administrative discharge.

Can you get a waiver for tattoos in the Air Force?

It is possible to receive a waiver from the USAF regarding tattoos.

If you have questionable tattoos that may violate the placement or content of the USAF tattoo policy, a recruiting officer can exercise some discretion.

The same is true of commanding officers who have discretion when a soldier under their supervision receives a new tattoo while already in service.

However, don’t count on a waiver. Understanding and following the Air Force tattoo policy, especially for new recruits, is essential.

What other grooming standards does the Air Force have?

The Air Force has several grooming standards that military personnel are expected to observe.

Haircut lengths and styles are heavily regulated both for male and female personnel.

Additionally, mustaches and sideburns are permitted with several restrictions.

The Air Force expects military personnel to have mustaches that are “conservative, moderate, being within reasonable limits, not excessive or extreme, and will not extend downward beyond the lip line of the upper lip”.

Beards and other types of facial hair are not authorized in the USAF unless a medical waiver is obtained.

Women are allowed to wear earrings in uniform (within defined standards), while men are not granted the same privilege.

Women are also allowed to have makeup and lipstick so long as it is applied conservatively and “in good taste”.

Related ArticleAir Force Grooming Standards: Haircuts, Mustaches, Beards, And More


The Air Force tattoo policy is considered liberal by military standards, especially when stacked up against the Marine Corps.

It allows an unlimited number of tattoos on the chest, arms, and legs so long as the content is not considered offensive under the policy.

Meanwhile, the face, head, scalp, and throat remain places on the body where tattoos are still not authorized.

Tattoo Policies For Other Military Branches

Army Tattoo Policy

Marine Corps Tattoo Policy

Coast Guard Tattoo Policy

National Guard Tattoo Policy

Additional References

Rob V.
Air Force Tattoo Policy

Air Force Tattoo Policy

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The Air Force has some pretty specific tattoo policies that can affect your potential for joining the branch. For example, throat tattoos are not allowed, but a tattoo on the back of the neck is allowed. With that said, they have to fit certain criteria.
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