Marine Corps updates tattoo policy to allow for sleeves

The U.S. Marine Corps on Friday announced updates to its tattoo policy, allowing Marines to sport sleeves and have as many tattoos as they’d like anywhere except their faces, necks and hands.

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“The decision to change the policy came after a monthslong review of existing regulations which were believed to have an adverse effect on retention and recruiting efforts,” Headquarters Marine Corps spokesman Maj. Jim Stenger said Friday in a statement. “In the course of this review, a panel of Marines from various backgrounds and ranks recommended changes to the policy.”

Under the new policy, Marines can have tattoos anywhere on their chest or back, as long as a crew-neck T-shirt can cover them. Arm tattoos are allowed no further than a line around the circumference of the wrist, as measured at the wrist bone. Tattoos on the hands and fingers are prohibited except for a single band tattoo of no more than 3/8 of an inch on one finger.

“The American people expect Marines to be disciplined, physically fit, and ready to accomplish any mission. They also expect Marines to represent the nation they are sworn to protect,” officials said in a bulletin officially announcing the policy Friday.

“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. This bulletin ensures that the Marine Corps maintains its ties to the society it represents and removes all barriers to entry for those members of society wishing to join its ranks.”

>> Read the full bulletin from the Marine Corps

In the bulletin, officials noted that Marines are barred from having “tattoos that are drug-related, gang-related, extremist, obscene or indecent, sexist or racist.”

Authorities added that tattooed officers and enlisted Marines “may continue to be assigned or allowed to serve on special duty assignments … although assignment to ceremonial and other high visibility units may be restricted.” Previously, Marines with tattoos visible in their physical training uniforms were barred from all special duty assignments, which offer troops extra pay and faster promotion chances, according to the Marine Corps Times.

“Marines are advised there are future career implications regarding the application of tattoos,” officials said in the bulletin. “A tattoo that is not specifically prohibited may still prevent future duty assignments.”

The policy replaces guidance released in 2016, which barred troops from having tattoos on or within an inch of their elbows and on or within two inches of their knees. The previous policy also required officers to have no more than four tattoos visible in the standard physical training uniform.

Sleeves were banned from the Marine Corps in 2007, giving the military branch the strictest tattoo policy in the Department of Defense, the Marine Corps Times reported.