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Enlisting With Eczema: Can You Join the Military?

Medically reviewed by Steven Devos, M.D., Ph.D.
Written by Jessica Wolpert
Posted on September 19, 2023

Is it possible to join the U.S. military if you have eczema? If you’re interested in enlisting, an eczema diagnosis can affect your eligibility. However, recent changes in military guidelines could make it easier for people with mild cases of eczema to join the U.S. armed forces.

If you or a loved one has eczema and would like to enlist in the military, read this article for more information.

Is Eczema a Disqualifying Condition for Armed Service?

Traditionally, skin conditions — such as chronic contact dermatitis, severe acne, psoriasis, and eczema — have been causes for disqualification from U.S. military service. Specifically, people diagnosed with atopic dermatitis (the most common type of eczema) after the age of 12 have been disqualified from joining the U.S. armed forces. The same goes for people who had recurring contact dermatitis or dyshidrotic eczema within two years of being eligible for military candidacy if they required a treatment beyond a topical steroid.

Some service branches have had even stricter medical standards. The U.S. Army and Navy have disqualified people who’ve had active atopic dermatitis diagnosis after the age of 9. The Air Force has disqualified people with active atopic dermatitis after the age of 8.

Enlistment Guidelines Recently Changed

However, recent changes in the Department of Defense’s medical guidelines could make it possible for more people with active eczema to enlist. These 2022 guidelines allow military duty if you meet the following conditions:

  • You haven’t had active atopic dermatitis or eczema within the previous three years requiring treatment stronger than over-the-counter hydrocortisone products or moisturizers.
  • You don’t have any active lesions or residual hyperpigmented or hypopigmented areas (areas with darkened or lightened skin due to eczema) at the time of your entrance examination.

In other words, if you’ve experienced eczema that’s treatable with over-the-counter topical medications, you should fall within the military’s general medical standards for enlisting or for appointment as an officer — as long as you’re not going through a flare-up at the time of examination. If you’ve received an eczema diagnosis but haven’t experienced any flare-ups in the past three years, you may still be able to serve.

Why Can Eczema Disqualify You From Military Service?

It may seem strange that eczema could keep someone from a military career. However, different medical conditions, including skin conditions like eczema, can limit a military member’s effectiveness at critical times.

Facets of Military Service May Trigger Eczema

Active duty can involve harsh environmental conditions, such as extreme cold and extreme heat, as well as other harsh physical and mental conditions. All of these can trigger flare-ups. It can be difficult or impossible to fully wash or apply creams and lotions while deployed in the field. These factors can make eczema flares more likely and, once they start, harder to control.

Military clothing and gear can trigger eczema, as uniform materials and equipment may contain skin irritants. Even detergent can be a problem. Many MyEczemaTeam members report problems with common detergents, including one who wrote, “I’ve found scented soaps, detergents, and dryer sheets can be very irritating to my eczema.”

Another member reported, “I had to change my laundry detergent to unscented and free of dyes.”

Eczema-friendly detergents may not always be available for uniforms when serving in the military.

Some Vaccines Required for Military Service May Affect Eczema

Some service members must receive a smallpox vaccine. People with active eczema or a history of eczema are at risk of developing eczema vaccinatum. This is a rare but dangerous skin condition in which defective skin barriers associated with eczema allow live virus from the smallpox vaccine to spread through the skin, causing a severe rash and systemic (bodywide) illness. However, not every service member will need a smallpox vaccine.

A Medical Waiver May Help You Qualify To Serve With Eczema

The recruiting process is not exact, and even if you have only mild eczema, you may still face disqualification. However, remember that “permanent disqualification” for enlistment or appointment isn’t actually permanent disqualification. Medical waivers, available on a case-by-case basis, may allow you to serve with an eczema diagnosis.

The U.S. military is currently experiencing a shortage of qualified enlistees, and each branch is allowed to make its own waiver decisions. Therefore, certain branches may be more likely to issue medical waivers.

Get an Accurate and Updated Diagnosis

Consulting with a dermatologist can help you with the waiver process, especially if you were diagnosed with eczema at a young age. “Eczema” is often used as a broad term and can be misdiagnosed — as one MyEczemaTeam member said, “I have had about five different diagnoses. It’s truly crazy what they put you through!”

A reexamination may be helpful if you haven’t experienced eczema flares recently. In some cases, earning a high score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery aptitude test and being open to different military occupational specialties may improve your chances of enlistment. In addition, some military career paths involve less risk of exposure to flare-up triggers and could be more appropriate for people with eczema.

If you don’t have an official diagnosis of eczema but have experienced mild dry skin or itching, don’t self-diagnose out of concern. Unless your condition has been diagnosed by a health care provider and is recorded in your medical records, there’s no need to declare that you have eczema.

Talk With Others Who Understand

On MyEczemaTeam — the social network for people with eczema and their loved ones — more than 49,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with eczema.

Do you have eczema and an interest in military service? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

    Posted on September 19, 2023
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    Steven Devos, M.D., Ph.D. received his medical degree and completed residency training in dermatology at the University of Ghent, Belgium. Learn more about him here.
    Jessica Wolpert earned a B.A. in English from the University of Virginia and an MA in Literature and Medicine from King's College. Learn more about her here.

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