us army tattoo policy

Army Tattoo Policy for 2023

Soldiers have always been held to higher grooming standards and expectations compared to civilians.

However, in recent memory, the U.S. Armed Forces have made its tattoo policies more lenient in order to adjust to a changing society.

The Army tattoo policy for 2023 is fairly loose and has among the most liberal tattoo policies in the military along with the Navy.

Learn more about what is acceptable, and what body art is still prohibited before you join the U.S. Army.

The main takeaways regarding the Army Tattoo Policy for 2023 are:

  • There is no limit to the number of tattoos you can have.
  • You can now have one visible tattoo on each hand under 1 inch in size.
  • Soldiers are permitted an unlimited number of tattoos between the fingers as long as they aren’t visible when the fingers are closed.
  • One ring tattoo on each hand is now authorized. 
  • One tattoo on the back of the neck is permitted if under 2 inches in size.
  • Face and head tattoos are not permitted except in the case of authorized permanent makeup tattoos.
  • Tattoos under 1 inch in size are permitted behind each ear if placed behind the earlobe. 
  • Sexist, racist, extremist, and indecent tattoos are still NOT allowed

Let’s take an in-depth look at the policy in detail below.

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What Tattoos Are Allowed in the Army?

army tattoo policy
The Army changed its tattoo policy amid the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Image:

The U.S. Army prides itself on a clean and neat presentation.

However, the military branch has adapted to modern social norms. 

More than 3 out of 10 Millenials have tattoos and 4 out of 10 Gen Z adults have tattoos.

These two generations (born between 1982 and 2012) make up the entire recruiting pool for the U.S. Army. 

The Army revised its tattoo policy during the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq in order to open up a larger recruiting pool.

Tattoos and brands are defined by the U.S. Army as:

“Permanent markings that are difficult to reverse in terms of financial cost, discomfort, and effectiveness of removal techniques.”

The Army tattoo policy no longer limits the number of tattoos on a soldier.

Related Article: Army Height And Weight Standards

army arm tattoos
The Army no longer restricts the size or number of tattoos a soldier can place on the arm. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Additionally, the size of tattoos is also not scrutinized nearly as much as in previous generations.

As a result, members of the Army are allowed to have as many tattoos as they want on their chest, arms, torso, and legs.

army chest tattoos
Tattoos are allowed on the chest in the U.S. Army. Image: Wikimedia Commons

It is an adaptation of a previous Army tattoo policy that limited the number of tattoos to four below the elbow and knee.

The skin below the wrist and from the neck up was recently off-limits, with the only exception being ring tattoos. 

Related Article20 Health Conditions That May Not Allow You To Join The Military

Adapting to the New Army Tattoo Policy for 2023

army ring tattoo
Soldiers are permitted to have one ring tattoo per hand. Image: Flickr

The Army tattoo policy is a constantly revolving door.

Therefore, soldiers with tattoos that were previously compliant with military policies but have since been deemed inappropriate can get “grandfathered in.”

Army soldiers are inspected routinely for new body art as well as other regulations of grooming standards.

Attempting to hide or cover up tattoos in violation of the policy is a bad idea and will inevitably end up with disciplinary action.

Before obtaining a tattoo, it is recommended that soldiers (or individuals interested in serving in the military) speak to a unit leader/recruiting coordinator to ensure the ink falls within acceptable standards.

Related Article: Can You Join The Military With A Felony?

What Tattoos Are NOT Allowed in the Army?

army new tattoo policy
Despite loosening its standards, the Army tattoo policy for 2023 still prohibits certain types of body art. Image:

There are two things to consider when gauging if a tattoo is allowed/appropriate in the U.S. Army:

A) Placement 

B) Message of the tattoo

As far as placement, we recommend using the t-shirt test.

Put on a T-shirt and stand in front of a mirror.

army tattoos on neck
A failing t-shirt test because the tattoo is visible on the front of the throat above the shirt collar. Image: Pixabay

The Army does not allow any visible tattoos that show in the front above the T-shirt collar line.

Tattoos on the face, ears, and scalp (as well as the inner mouth or eyelids) are also forbidden.

army face tattoos
The Army does not authorize tattoos on the scalp, face, or neck. Image: Flickr

Secondly, the Army will analyze the appearance of the tattoo and its message.

racist army tattoos
An example of a tattoo that would be considered racist in the Army. Image: Flickr

The U.S. Army prohibits any tattoos that are racist, derogatory, sexist, extremist, or indecent.

These types of tattoos are not allowed regardless of where you place them on the body (even if hidden under a uniform).

The Army grants commanding officers the responsibility of determining what types of tattoos are appropriate and which ones may be deemed offensive.

Examples of Army Offensive Tattoos

indecent army tattoos
The Army does not allow indecent, extremist, sexist, or racist tattoos under any circumstances. Image: Air Combat Command

Here are the main types of tattoos the U.S. Army analyzes and may prohibit you from enlisting in the military:

  • Sexist Tattoos: Soldiers are not allowed to have body art that “advocates a philosophy that degrades or demeans a person based on gender.”
  • Racist Tattoos: Soldiers are not allowed to have body ink that “degrades or demeans a person based on race, ethnicity, or national origin.”
  • Extremist Tattoos: The Army determines extremist tattoos as body art “affiliated with, depicting, or symbolizing extremist philosophies, organizations, or activities.” The Army has zero tolerance toward organizations that promote racial or gender intolerance.
  • Indecent Tattoos: The Army clarifies that indecent tattoos are “grossly offensive to modesty, decency, propriety, or professionalism.” The definition of indecent tattoos in the Army is fairly loose. It might include body art like a character flipping the bird or using the restroom on another object.

Lastly, branding tattoos are not authorized in the U.S. Army.

Military personnel are prohibited from having tattoos, including brands on the head, face, and throat.

Related Article:  20 Reasons to Join the Military (and 7 Reasons Not To)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

There are several commonly asked questions regarding the Army tattoo policy:

Can you have a full-sleeve tattoo in the Army?

The U.S. Army recently changed its policy regarding tattoos on the arms.

There is no longer a limitation to how many tattoos Army soldiers can have on their arms as long as they follow other stipulations.

Can you have neck/face/hand tattoos in the Army?

The Army does not allow tattoos on the face. 

However, tattoos are authorized on the head, neck, and hands within limits. 

Exceptions include a ring tattoo on one finger of each hand, one small tattoo per hand, unlimited tattoos between fingers, one 1-inch tattoo behind each ear, and one 2-inch tattoo on the back of the neck.

Will the Army pay to remove tattoos?

For example, if a commanding officer determines your tattoo violates policy, you could request funding for the removal.

However, those circumstances happen infrequently in the U.S. Army.

Are Army officers allowed to have tattoos?

Yes, officers of the Army can have tattoos.

The Army tattoo policy for 2023 is different from previous regulations that held officers to higher physical appearance standards compared to enlisted soldiers.

The new policy basically holds officers to the same rules as enlisted soldiers when it comes to tattoos.

Commanding officers are also responsible for determining if a soldier under their watch gets a new tattoo that is deemed offensive.

Can a soldier cover up a tattoo with makeup or bandages?

The Army does not allow soldiers to cover up a tattoo anywhere on the body with bandages or makeup.

It doesn’t matter if the tattoo is hidden when in uniform or not.

However, “permanent makeup” is an exception.

The Army approves permanent makeup like tattoos that represent eyebrows or eyeliner as long as it follows the traditional rules for makeup (only on female soldiers).

What happens if a soldier is caught with an unauthorized tattoo/refuses to remove it?

According to the Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia Manual 670-1, there are procedures for handling unauthorized tattoos.

If a soldier has any tattoo or brand that is prohibited under the Army tattoo policy (or is not grandfathered in), he or she will receive a written notice from a commander regarding the violation.

Once the soldier receives the notice, they have a minimum of 15 days to appeal or remove the offending tattoo. 

The Army traditionally provides three options: A) appeal the decision of the commander, B) have the tattoo professionally removed, or C) keep the tattoo.

Tattoo policy appeals are handled by a commander at the O-6 level for a final determination.

Military personnel who violate the Army tattoo policy are responsible for any costs related to the removal of the tattoo.

Soldiers who elect to keep tattoo(s) in violation of the policy will begin administrative separation proceedings in order to terminate his or her service.

Related ArticleArmy APFT Test Standards For 2023

What other grooming standards does the Army have?

The U.S. Army – like every branch of the military – has fairly strict grooming standards.

Male and female service members are both required to follow well-defined haircut requirements.

Additionally, men are not permitted to have beards in the Army though tightly regulated mustaches are authorized.

Body piercings are not allowed for male or female service members.

Learn what is authorized and not authorized regarding Army grooming standards.


The Army tattoo policy for 2023 is adapting to body ink becoming much more a part of general society.

The tattoo policy no longer limits the number or size of tattoos on the body as long as they are not present on the face or throat, and those on the neck or hands are small and limited in number. 

If you have more questions about the Army tattoo policy, including body art that you are not sure will be authorized, contact a local recruiter.

Tattoo Policies For Other Military Branches

Navy Tattoo Policy

Air Force Tattoo Policy

Marine Corps Tattoo Policy

Coast Guard Tattoo Policy

National Guard Tattoo Policy

Related Article: Which Branch Of The Military Should I Join? 7 Things To Consider


Army Regulation 670-1

Zach B.
Army Tattoo Policy

Army Tattoo Policy

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If you're considering joining the US Army, then you need to take their tattoo policy into account.
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