The Marine Corps is considered the most demanding and challenging branch in the military.
As a result, many of its expectations are set at a higher level compared to the Army, Navy, and Air Force.
The same is true of what tattoos are allowed, and which ones are not during service.
Here are the key takeaways for the Marine Corps tattoo policy:
- You CAN have tattoos anywhere on your chest, back, torso, upper arms (NO half or full sleeves), upper thighs, and groin
- There are no restrictions as to the size, shape, colors, or number of tattoos, provided they are concealed under a PT uniform
- There ARE restrictions on tattoos that are visible outside of a PT uniform
- These include the tattoo being no bigger than your hand, and no tattoos within 2″ above or below the arms, elbow, or knee
- Ring tattoos are allowed, provided they’re no more than 3/8″ wide and are only available on one finger
- Just like the other branches, racist, sexist, obscene, and extremist tattoos are NOT allowed
See a more detailed discussion on the policies below.
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What Tattoos Are Allowed In The Marine Corps?
According to Marine Corps General Robert B. Neller, the tattoo policy over the years has:
“Attempted to balance the individual desires of Marines with the need to maintain the disciplined appearance expected of our profession.”
Therefore, the Marine Corps tattoo policy seeks to find a balance between individual representation and old-school values.
Marines are allowed to have tattoos anywhere on the chest, back, torso, upper arms, upper thighs, and groin area.
In other words, whatever is concealed under a properly fitting standard physical training (PT) uniform.
A standard PT uniform in the Marines consists of a crew-neck t-shirt and shorts.
As a result, anything that is concealed under a PT uniform is fair game as long as the content of the tattoo is not considered offensive (more on that later).
The number of tattoos, size, shape, or colors are not restricted in any manner outside of judging its content.
Marines have the opportunity to receive waivers for cosmetic tattoos that cover up scars and other body disfigurements.
A waiver is granted by a commanding officer and offered on a case-by-case basis.
Overall, the Marine Corps has far more stipulations compared to other military branches like the Army and Navy.
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Marine Tattoos Outside PT Uniform
When it comes to any area of the body that is NOT concealed by a PT uniform, the Marine must follow more demanding guidelines.
Marines are authorized up to four tattoos throughout the body not covered by the PT uniform.
There are stipulations regarding the up to four visible tattoos:
- A tattoo (or group of tattoos) situated anywhere on the lower arm is allowed only if the body ink is coverable by the hand of the Marine with his or her fingers extended and joined with the thumb flush against the side of the hand.
- The rule sets restrictions on the size of the tattoo (basically no bigger than your hand is allowed).
- The measurement is conducted by a commanding officer from the base of the palm to the tip of the fingers and from the outside of the thumb to the outside of the palm.
Additionally, the Marine Corps does allow band tattoos, like tribal bands, but only if the band does not exceed three inches or the width of the Marines four fingers extended and joined, whichever is greater.
As for ink on the arms, hands, and legs the Marine Corps tattoo policy states:
- No tattoos are permitted within two inches of the wrist-bone on the arms.
- Arm tattoos are not authorized within two inches above or below the elbow.
- Leg tattoos are not authorized within two inches above or below the knee.
Additionally, married Marines are permitted to have one single band tattoo (no more than 3/8 inch) on one finger.
Any other body art on the hands is strictly prohibited.
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What Tattoos Are NOT Allowed In The Marine Corps?
The Marine Corps tattoo policy breaks down what is not allowed on a soldier in two different ways, just like other military branches.
The two methods of review for body art are A) the location of the tattoo and B) the content of the tattoo.
First, the location of the tattoo is fairly liberal so long as it is covered by the PT uniform or the soldier does not exceed four tattoos outside the uniform.
As previously mentioned, there are places like directly above or below the elbow or knee that are restricted from having tattoos.
The same is true of the hands (aside from one band tattoo for married soldiers) and wrist-bone.
Additionally, the Marine Corps tattoo policy states that military personnel may not have full-sleeve or half-sleeve tattoos.
It is a far contrast from the Army, Navy, and Air Force which approved tattoo sleeves in the last few years.
The Marine Corps defines tattoo sleeves as “the full coverage of the skin by tattoo ink” which is generally located on the arms or legs.
The lone exception is if the tattoo sleeve begins on the chest or shoulder and extends below the crew neck t-shirt sleeve yet stops BEFORE the two-inch cut off at the elbow.
Marines must still be able to cover the visible portion of the tattoo sleeve under a PT uniform with their extended and joined hand in order to remain in compliance with the Marine Corps tattoo policy.
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Quick List – Non-Authorized Tattoo Locations
Here is a quick breakdown of the places on your body the Marine Corps does not allow tattoos:
- Head, Neck, or Face (including mouth and eyelids)
- Above the Collar Bone (before reaching the neck)
- Two-inches from Elbow or Wrist-Bone
- Wrist, Hands (only exception is a single ring tattoo), and Fingers
- Two-inches from the Knee
- Below the Ankle or on the Foot
USMC has very detailed explanations of the boundaries of unauthorized body parts for tattoos in its manual, Marine Corps Tattoo Policy, Bulletin 1020.
Tattoos NOT Allowed Because of Content
In addition to the location on your body, the Marine Corps will also extensively study the content of the body art.
The Marine Corps has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to offensive tattoos comparable to the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard.
The Marine Corps tattoo policy for 2020 states that ink is never allowed which is “prejudicial to good order and discipline.”
Furthermore, tattoos that are “drug-related, gang-related, extremist, obscene or indecent, sexist, or racist” are not authorized under any circumstances.
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In order to remain compliant with the Marine Corps tattoo policy, use common sense.
Ask yourself, ‘Would your mother approve of this type of tattoo?”
If the answer is no, the Marine Corps isn’t going to like obscene or indecent tattoos any more than other professional organizations.
Recruits that are interested in joining the U.S. Marines and already have tattoos can speak with a recruiting officer to determine if any of the body art is in violation.
There are waivers granted in certain situations, especially for former Marines wishing to join the Reserves, yet the military branch generally bends its rules more for tattoo placement than content.
Marine Corps Tattoo Policy – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
We get a lot of commonly asked questions regarding the Marine Corps tattoo policy.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions for quick reference…
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Can you have a full sleeve tattoo in the Marine Corps?
In general, the rule is no you cannot have a full sleeve tattoo in the Marine Corps.
The reason is that the military branch restricts ink two inches above and below the knee.
The same is true of the knee which limits full sleeves on the legs.
However, it is possible to have a tattoo sleeve in the Marines that begins on the chest or shoulder and extends down the upper arm.
In order to remain in compliance, the sleeve must stop at least two inches above the elbow.
Can you have neck/face/hand tattoos in the Marine Corps?
No, the Marine Corps tattoo policy makes it clear the locations are not authorized.
The Marine Corps has a similar policy for face, neck, and hand tattoos as other military branches.
The only exception is on the hand where a wedded Marine is authorized one band tattoo on one of the two hands.
Will the Marine Corps pay to remove tattoos?
The Department of Defense recently passed rules that limit military funding for tattoo removal.
If you are ordered to remove a tattoo that the Marine Corps determines is non-compliant you may seek funding through a military clinic for professional removal.
Are Marine Corps officers allowed to have tattoos?
Yes, under the new Marine Corps tattoo policy officers are permitted the same rights for body art as enlisted members.
It means that officers must also follow the same restrictions on arms, hands, and legs.
Officers are reviewed for tattoos during a physical examination, comparable to enlisted personnel.
Commanders are also given permission to make individual determinations for tattoos that are sported by other personnel under their supervision.
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Can you get a waiver for tattoos in the Marine Corps?
It is possible to request a waiver for a tattoo that is located on a body part that is otherwise not authorized in the military branch.
New recruits face a more difficult time gaining a waiver compared to soldiers already enlisted in the branch.
The recruiting officer is given permission to assess each situation on a case-by-case basis.
Former Marines that have “out of regulation tattoos” and wish to join the reserves are often granted a waiver, as one example.
The Marine Corps rarely grants waivers to soldiers with obscene or indecent tattoos as the content is of the body art is judged more harshly.
What other grooming standards does the Marine Corps have?
The Marine Corps has strict grooming standards compared to its brother branch, the U.S. Navy.
Haircuts are required to remain “neat, clean, and well-groomed” at all times.
There are a number of regulations related to what hairstyles are authorized and not authorized.
Male Marines are permitted a mustache after completing recruit training.
Related Article – Marine Corps Grooming Standards: Hair, Beard, And Nail Regulations
The Marine Corps tattoo policy for 2020 is designed to maintain a professional and disciplined organization.
As a result, standards are set in place that determine what types of tattoos and where on the body they are authorized.
Speaking with a Marine Corps recruiter can help clarify if your current body art is compliant or not.
Marine officers are given permission to make the determination for soldiers that are already enlisted in the military branch.
Tattoo Policies For Other Military Branches
Born and raised in Woodbridge, NJ, he graduated from the New Jersey Institute Of Technology with an MBA in eCommerce.His hobbies include beach volleyball, target shooting, and lifting.
Rob is also a commercially rated pilot with over 1,500 hours of flight time.