Air Force Policy On Tattoos, Body Art, And Body Piercings
Tattoos And Piercings In The Military
In the Air Force, as of 2017, tattoos on the chest, back, arms and legs that still meet the authorized standard are not restricted by the “25 percent” rule. The 25% rule refers to 25% of the body area being covered by tattoos AND could not be visible while wearing the uniform. However, tattoos, brands or body markings on the head, neck, face, tongue, lips and/or scalp still remain prohibited. Hand tattoos are limited to a single-band ring tattoo on one finger of one hand.
The Air Force is evolving with the culture. More than 20% of Air Force applicants had tattoos that required some type of review each year. Now the policy is easier to implement with less gray area left for interpretation of the reviewers.
Unauthorized (Content): Tattoos/Brands anywhere on the body that are obscene, advocate sexual, racial, ethnic, or religious discrimination are prohibited in and out of uniform. Tattoos/brands that are prejudicial to good order and discipline, or of a nature that tends to bring discredit upon the Air Force are prohibited in and out of uniform.
Any member obtaining unauthorized tattoos will be required to remove them at their own expense. Using uniform items to cover unauthorized tattoos is not an option. Members failing to remove unauthorized tattoos in a timely manner will be subject to involuntary separation, or punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
Members are prohibited from attaching, affixing or displaying objects, articles, jewelry or ornamentation to or through the ear, nose, tongue, or any exposed body part (includes visible through the uniform). EXCEPTION: Women are authorized to wear one small spherical, conservative, diamond, gold, white pearl, or silver pierced, or clip earring per earlobe and the earring worn in each earlobe must match. Earring should fit tightly without extending below the earlobe. (EXCEPTION: Connecting band on clip earrings.)
- Official Duty: Members are prohibited from attaching, affixing or displaying objects, articles, jewelry or ornamentation to or through the ear, nose, tongue, or any exposed body part (includes visible through clothing). EXCEPTION: Women are authorized to wear one small spherical, conservative, diamond, gold, white pearl, or silver pierced, or clip earring per earlobe and the earring worn in each earlobe must match. Earring should fit tightly without extending below the earlobe. (EXCEPTION: Connecting band on clip earrings)
- Off Duty on a Military Installation: Members are prohibited from attaching, affixing or displaying objects, articles, jewelry or ornamentation to or through the ear, nose, tongue, or any exposed body part (includes visible through clothing). EXCEPTION: Piercing of earlobes by women is allowed, but should not be extreme or excessive. The type and style of earrings worn by women on a military installation should be conservative and kept within sensible limits.
There may be situations where the commander can restrict the wear of non-visible body ornaments. Those situations would include any body ornamentation that interferes with the performance of the member’s military duties. The factors to be evaluated in making this determination include, but are not limited to: impairs the safe and effective operation of weapons, military equipment, or machinery; poses a health or safety hazard to the wearer or others; or interferes with the proper wear of special or protective clothing or equipment (EXAMPLE: helmets, flack jackets, flight suits, camouflaged uniforms, gas masks, wet suits, and crash rescue equipment).
Installation or higher commanders may impose more restrictive standards for tattoos and body ornaments, on or off duty, in those locations where the Air Force-wide standards may not be adequate to address cultural sensitivities (e.g.; overseas) or mission requirements (e.g.; basic training environments).
Update: The Air Force also announced a policy which prohibits body mutilation, such as split tongues.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions and answers from the experts concerning the recent revision to Air Force Instruction 36-2903 on body piercing and tattoos.
Question: Why do we need a tattoo and body piercing policy?
Answer: The policy was created based on requests from commanders and first sergeants who wanted clearer standards and guidelines in the face of the growing popularity of body art and body piercing fads.
Question: Who has the final say on the appropriateness of earrings, body piercing or branding?
Answer: Commanders and first sergeants are the first line of authority for making this determination. Body piercing (other than earrings) is quite straightforward -- don't display it while in uniform, while performing official duty in civilian attire or on a military installation at any time. Tattoos are a bit more subjective, but this policy provides commanders guidelines to make the calls.
Question: Does the body piercing policy applies to all areas of the military installation -- including recreation facilities (pools, ball fields, etc.) and living areas (dormitories, military family housing)?
Answer: Yes. But it is also important to note the policy only addresses personal appearance issues while on the installation. Although the Air Force encourages airmen to maintain an appropriate military image at all times, piercing practices off base, such as earring wear by males, are not intended to be addressed by this policy.
Question: What happens to those people who had tattoos before this new policy came into effect, and who might now be in violation of the policy?
Answer: It's expected that most tattoos fall within acceptable guidelines. Questionable tattoos will be considered on a case-by-case basis between the airmen and their commander. If a tattoo is "unauthorized" -- racist, sexist or otherwise discriminatory in nature -- the tattoo must be removed at member expense. If a commander rules that a tattoo falls into the other category of "inappropriate," there are other options, to include using uniform items to cover part or all of the image(s).
Question: Is there a set timeframe to have a tattoo removed before being involuntarily separated?
Answer: There is not a set timeframe for removal. The commander determines the sense of urgency, depending on the nature of the tattoo. For instance, if airmen have inappropriate tattoos they would like to voluntarily remove, the commander can assist them in seeking medical support for the procedure. The timing of removal, in this case, will be driven primarily by the availability of medical facilities staffed and equipped for tattoo removals.
Question: What are the differences in the piercing policy for women and men?
Answer: The only difference is the wear of earrings. Males may not wear earrings on duty whether in or out of uniform nor can they wear them off duty on base. Females performing official duty in civilian attire are limited to the same wear criteria as for when in uniform: i.e., a single small spherical, conservative, diamond, gold, white pearl, or silver pierced or clip earring per earlobe. The earrings must match and should fit tightly without extending below the earlobe.
Above Information Derived from AFI 36-2903 and the Air Force News Service