USMC Tattoos Policy

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The U.S. Marine Corps maintains strict standards of dress and appearance among the ranks, including guidelines for Marines with tattoos. The Corps updated its policy on tattoos in 2010 to clarify requirements and impose new restrictions on service members. Marines must adhere to specific limitations on quantity, size and placement of tattoos.

1 Number and Placement

Marines are limited to four tattoos that are visible when wearing the physical training uniform, which consists of a t-shirt and shorts. Multiple small tattoos that fall within a five-inch circle are counted as a single tattoo. These four permitted tattoos may only be on the arms and legs. Tattoos are not permitted on the head, neck, face, hands, fingers, wrists, or inside the mouth. There are no limitations on tattoos that are fully covered by the physical training uniform.

2 Size

Visible tattoos cannot be larger than the Marine's hand. This is measured by placing the hand over the tattoo with the fingers and thumb extended and touching. Enlisted Marines may have band tattoos, which encircle the arm or leg, no wider than one quarter of the length of the arm or leg area visible when wearing the physical training uniform. Officers face stricter standards than enlisted service members and are prohibited from having band tattoos that are more than two inches wide. Prior to 2010, the only size restriction related to a ban on sleeve tattoos, which cover a large portion of a person's arm or leg.

3 Other Restrictions

Racist, sexist, anti-American, drug-related, or profane tattoos, and those associated with extremist groups or gangs, are not permitted anywhere on the body. There is no exception for these tattoos if they are not visible in uniform. Black light tattoos, which are largely invisible to the naked eye but glow under ultraviolet light, are not allowed.

4 Existing Tattoos

The revised policy applies to all new recruits. However, Marines who enlisted or got their tattoos before 2010 will not face any punishment. The Corps can not require service members to undergo tattoo removal procedures, but Marines who obtain new prohibited tattoos may be subject to discharge from their duties. Current Marines who had any of these restricted tattoos prior to the policy change should have them officially documented in their service records to avoid future conflict.

5 Promotion

As Marines are highly recognizable across the U.S. and around the world, the Corps places a premium on placing sharp, professional-looking Marines in public positions. The presence of tattoos may be taken into consideration when determining promotions and new assignments. Marines with sleeve tattoos are no longer eligible to apply for commissioning or warrant officer programs, and those with heavy tattooing will not be selected to be recruiters.

Mort Anderton has been a journalist and photographer since 2004. His work has appeared in the "Winston-Salem Journal" and the "Richmond Times Dispatch," and he has received awards from the Illinois Press Association, North Carolina Press Association and others. Anderton has a Master of Science in professional media and media management from Southern Illinois University.