The Army changed the regulations in 2015 after realizing that its restrictions on tattoos were costing it recruits. Surveys have shown that some 30% of people between the ages of 25 and 34 have at least one tattoo, and tattoos are nearly as popular among those younger than 25.
The Army regulations apply to both tattoos and brands, which the Army defines as "permanent markings that are difficult to reverse."
U.S. Army Tattoo Policy: What's Not Allowed
The Army's policy prohibits tattoos or brands that might be considered offensive, regardless of where they appear on the body. Specifically, the regulations forbid:
- Extremist tattoos. According to the regulations, these are tattoos or brands "affiliated with, depicting, or symbolizing extremist philosophies, organizations, or activities." This would include tattoos that: feature philosophies, groups or activities that promote racial or gender intolerance; encourage discrimination based on numerous factors, including race, gender and religion; advocate violence or "other unlawful means of depriving individual rights under the U.S. Constitution, and Federal or State law."
- Indecent tattoos. These include tattoos or brands that are "grossly offensive to modesty, decency, propriety, or professionalism." The Army's regulations do not provide examples of tattoos that would fall under these descriptions.
- Sexist tattoos. These include tattoos and brands that "advocate a philosophy that degrades or demeans a person based on gender," according to the regulations.
- Racist tattoos. Tattoos or brands that "advocate a philosophy that degrades or demeans a person based on race, ethnicity, or national origin" are not allowed.
Tattoos That Are Allowed Under Army Rules
Generally, the Army's tattoo policy allows most tattoos (with the exception of those that fall into the "offensive" categories above) but forbids most of those that would be visible in uniform.
The Army regulations do, however, allow one ring tattoo on each hand, although it must not extend beyond where a ring naturally would rest on your finger (between the lowest knuckle and your hand).
As a result of these placement and visibility rules, tattoos and brands are not allowed on:
- Your head
- Your face
- Your neck above the t-shirt line
- Inside your eyelids, mouth or ears
- Your wrists
- Your hands
So-called "permanent makeup," which includes tattoos used as permanent eyebrows or eyeliner, is allowed as long as it follows the Army's rules on makeup. Those rules, covered in the same Army regulation, allow makeup only for women, and require the makeup to be "applied modestly and conservatively."
More on the Army's Rules
The Army doesn't allow recruits or soldiers to cover disallowed tattoos with bandages or makeup.
Before soldiers decide to obtain a new tattoo, the regulations advise speaking with a unit leader to make sure the tattoo that's envisioned will abide by Army rules.
If a soldier is found to have a tattoo that breaks the rules, the commander is instructed to take several steps, beginning with counseling of the soldier about the tattoo rules. If a soldier with a disallowed tattoo or brand refuses to have it removed, then the commander is instructed to initiate administrative separation proceedings.
Army Regulation 670-1