New US Air Force Tattoo Policy for 2023 (USAF Tattoo Regulations)

There are not many honorable deeds than serving one’s country, and many people decide to share the sentiment through patriotic tattoos.

A huge share of folks already serving the country or thinking about enlisting in the military has tattoos. If you belong to the latter group and are considering joining the Air Force division, you might want to learn about the current Air Force tattoo policy.

So, are you allowed tattoos in the Air Force?

Stick with us for the next couple of minutes as we dive into the Air Force tattoo regulations for 2023.

US Air Force tattoo policy changes highlights

Air Force Tattoo Policy – All You Need to Know

The latest change to Air Force rules on tattoos dates back to 2017 which is quite a long time ago compared to some other branches of the military (eg. the Marine Corps updated their regulations in 2021).

The primary concern of the Air Force when it comes to tattoos is that they present a “professional” and “neat” appearance. In order to make sure that all Airmen comply with this standard, there are some specific guidelines on where tattoos are allowed to be visible.

Tattoo Restrictions for Air Force

As you can see in the image below, there are still some body parts where tattoos are not allowed to be visible while in uniform.

Tattoo restrictions in the Air Force
Tattoo restrictions in the Air Force

With that said, the only outright ban in the current USAF tattoo policy relates to tattoos placed on the head or neck.

Other areas which have been previously a no-go, now seem to be a little more tolerant.

A good example of such areas is the hands. While previous policies completely banned any ink on the hands, the new rules seem to be a little more relaxed. As far as the US Air Force tattoo policy is concerned, you are now allowed one tattoo in the “band” style on one finger of one hand. It’s worth noting that the art can’t be wider than 3/8 inch.

The other big change is the allowance of sleeves, which were previously not allowed. The green light for full-sleeve tattoos in the military has been greeted with a lot of enthusiasm, especially from those who were planning on enlisting.

On top of allowing small hand tattoos and full sleeves, the new Air Force tattoo policy released in 2017 also:

  • Removed the 25% coverage rule introduced years ago due to “excessive” tattoos among the military. Now there’s virtually no limit on the number of tattoos you can have and the amount of space they take up – as long as you abide by the general guidelines
  • Removed the size limit. Akin to the 25% rule, limits on tattoo sizes were imposed to tackle the “excessive tattoo” issue. The size rule basically made it impossible to have the demonized full-sleeves

Fair to say, the tattoo requirements for Air Force have eased (just like they have for other military divisions). And, considering the growing acceptance of tattoos in society, it’s only a matter of time before the military further relaxes its tattoo policies.

This is great news embraced by the many airmen who already have tattoos or are planning to get them. But, as always, there’s a certain level of responsibility that comes with getting inked – especially when your ink will be visible to the world.

When deciding on a tattoo, think about how it will reflect on you and the Air Force. Remember, tattoos are permanent, so choose a design and placement that you’re comfortable with for the long haul.

Tattoos in the “Right” Area Guarantees Nothing

It’s worth noting that even if your tattoos are in the “right” areas and are compliant with the new tattoo policy, that doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to get into the Air Force or any other branch of the military for that matter.

There are rules regarding the placement of tattoos and then there are the moral and ethical standards that the Air Force, and all branches of the military, hold their members to. So even if you have a tattoo that’s within the new guidelines, if it’s considered offensive, it could still preclude you from serving.

The AF tattoo policy states clearly that your art cannot be racist, sexist, or otherwise discriminatory in nature. Additionally, any tattoo that could be considered offensive or gang-related is also not allowed.

Ultimately, it’s up to your commander to decide whether or not a particular tattoo is acceptable. If you’re unsure about whether or not a tattoo is allowed, the best thing to do is to ask your supervisor before getting it.

Tattoo Waiver for Air Force

If you have a tattoo that doesn’t meet the new standards, you can apply for a waiver. The waiver process is lengthy and includes an interview, so it’s not something to be undertaken lightly.

Ultimately, it’s up to your commander to decide whether or not a particular tattoo is acceptable. If you’re unsure about whether or not a tattoo is allowed, the best thing to do is to ask your supervisor before getting it.

The chances of getting a waiver will differ depending on the specific tattoo(s) but in general, they are pretty slim. With that said, it’s naturally worth looking into if you’re really set on keeping your tattoo.

Tattoos & Air Force: FAQ

We hope that by now you’re convinced that the Air Force is not entirely opposed to tattoos. The Air Force’s rules about tattoos are constantly easing and a growing number of inked folks should feel confident in applying.

But before you go out and get inked, have a look at the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section above. On top of summarizing everything we’ve covered so far, the section also answers some popular questions related to the current Air Force tattoo policy.

Are tattoos allowed in the Air Force?

So, can you enlist if you have tattoos? The short answer is yes, tattoos are allowed in the Air Force. However, there are some restrictions on where they can be placed and how big they can be.

The Air Force’s current policy on tattoos is that they must be “neat and conservative.” This means that tattoos cannot be visible on the neck, face, or hands (apart from the small finger band tattoo).

What tattoos will disqualify you from the Air Force?

There are some tattoos that will disqualify you from joining the Air Force. These include:

  • Any tattoo that is racist, sexist, or derogatory in any way
  • Gang-related tattoos
  • Tattoos on the face, neck, or hands (with the exception of a small band tattoo on the ring finger)

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

The Air Force currently allows full-sleeve tattoos as long as they don’t extend past the wrist bone.

What is the current Air Force arm tattoo policy?

Unlimited tattoos on arms are allowed as long as they don’t extend past the wrist bone.

What is the latest Air Force neck tattoo policy?

As things stand, neck tattoos are still prohibited in the Air Force.

Will the Air Force allow hand tattoos?

The current Air Force hand tattoo policy will allow one small tattoo on one of the fingers, but not on the palms or back of the hand. The acceptance of hand tattoos in the Air Force came only with the latest policy change.

Can you have a wrist tattoo in the Air Force?

Currently, tattoos on the wrist bone or extending to the hand are not authorized.

Can you get a waiver for hand tattoos in the military?

Certainly, there’s a chance you could get a waiver for a hand tattoo if you have a compelling reason why it’s necessary. However, it’s important to remember that the military is not required to grant waivers for tattoos and each case is decided on an individual basis.

Can I join the Air Force with a tattoo behind my ear?

The current tattoo rules for the Air Force don’t allow tattoos in this area but you can always apply for a waiver and hope for the best.

Do you have to cover tattoos in the Air Force?

No, the allowed body areas don’t require you to cover your tattoos. If you have a tattoo in an allowed body area, you don’t need to cover it while wearing the Air Force uniform. However, if you have a tattoo that isn’t in an allowed body area, you’ll need to remove it or hope for a waiver.

Is the Air Force officer tattoo policy different?

No, the same rules apply to officers as they do to enlisted personnel.

Is the Air Force Reserve tattoo policy different?

Again, the same rules apply to members of the Air Force Reserve as they do to those in the regular Air Force.

What military branch allows tattoos?

As things stand, all branches allow tattoos with some restrictions in place.

Final Word & References

We hope that you found the article useful and that by now you’re well-educated on the subject of the US Air Force tattoo regulations.

The Air Force tattoo policy is constantly-evolving (as is the world). If you have a tattoo that isn’t in an allowed body area, you’ll need to remove it or get a waiver. The same rules apply to officers as they do to enlisted personnel.

There is some hope on the horizon, though, as the Air Force is currently reviewing its policy and may loosen up the restrictions in the future. Considering the fact that the last change to the policy dates back to 2017, it’s definitely due for an update.

So if you’re thinking of getting a tattoo or already have one that doesn’t comply with the Air Force regulations, stay tuned and keep your fingers crossed that the rules will change soon. Thanks for reading!

The information you found in the article is based on official sources, mainly the Commander’s Call Topics.

Articles related to this one include: Marine Corps & Sleeve Tattoos, FBI Tattoo Policy & CIA Tattoo Policy.