Air Force

July 24, 2014

Tattoos: Good, bad, permanent

Senior Airman Timothy Young
99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev.  – Tattoos are becoming more commonplace in today’s society and therefore in the Air Force, which makes it important for Airmen to know what they are getting into before making a decision that will last a lifetime.

Getting a tattoo can be a great way for someone to commemorate a moment in life that they find important or to help express that person’s personality, but they can just as easily become a regret someone may have to live with for the rest of their life.

“First and foremost, all Airmen considering getting a tattoo or some type of body marking should do a thorough review of AFI 36-2903, Chapter 3, and Paragraph 3.4 Dress and appearance which specifically outlines what is authorized while in and out of uniform,” said Chief Master Sgt. Jeffery McWaine, 99th Medical Group superintendent. “Lack of research could easily result in members receiving excessive tattoos or body markings which cover more than the percentage of the body part that is allowed by AFI.”

Airmen should follow these guidelines to prevent breaking Air Force regulations.

“Excessive tattoos and body markings will not be exposed or visible while wearing any uniform combinations, except the physical training uniform. ‘Excessive’ is defined as any tattoos, or body markings that exceed 25 percent of the exposed body part and are readily visible when wearing any and or all uniform combinations,” McWaine said. “Additionally, members must realize that any tattoos or body markings that appear above the collarbone, on the neck, head, face, tongue and lips are strictly prohibited.”

Members who fail to do their research and do not follow specific guidelines on authorized tattoos or body markings could find themselves on the wrong side of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and face disciplinary action from their respective unit leadership.

Besides disciplinary risks, doing research before getting a tattoo is also important to keep someone from possibly exposing themselves to unnecessary health hazards.

A tattoo is a permanent mark or design made on the body by pigment introduced through ruptures in the skin. With any break in the skin, there are health risks that can result in the need for medical care.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, these can include a reaction to the ink or ink pigments, or an infection. The FDA is particularly concerned about infections with a family of bacteria called Non-tuberculosis Mycobacteria that has been found in recent outbreaks of illnesses linked to contaminated tattoo inks.

Anthony Walker, 99th Medical Group physician’s assistant said he has treated six patients in the last four months with injuries related to newly applied tattoos.

Walker said, some of the issues that can arise from tattoos are localized infections, Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, increased bleeding, hepatitis B, C and Human immunodeficiency virus. Another issue is local nerve or tissue damage is caused by inappropriate procedures.

The FDA warns that tattoo inks can also become contaminated by Non-tuberculosis Mycobacteria and several other types of bacteria, mold and fungi. This makes it important to research particular tattoo parlors and artists before getting a tattoo or piercing. According to health.nv.gov, Nevada does not regulate tattoo parlors.

“Think it through and ask yourself is it truly worth the risk, do I trust this establish to be reputable, what did I notice about the facility prior to making my decision, and if others contracted an infection or illness then maybe this is not where I need to be,” Walker said. “Is this tattoo something that can alter or end my career with the military?”

If you suspect you may have a tattoo-related infection, the FDA recommends the following:

  • Contact your health care professional if you see a red rash with swelling, possibly accompanied by itching or pain in the tattooed area, usually appearing 2-3 weeks after tattooing.
  • Report the problem to the tattoo artist.
  • Report the problem to MedWatch, on the web or at 1-800-332-1088; or contact FDA’s consumer complaint coordinator in your area.



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(U.S. Air Force Illustration by Airman 1st Class Cheyenne Morigeau)

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