Today, there exist a number of different international documents, regulating both civilian and military operations, which present action levels regarding contamination of alpha- and/or beta-emitting radionuclides. There are, however, inconsistencies among the action levels suggested in different documents, which can be explained only in part by differences in their intended use. Many of the suggested action levels are calculated using conservative estimates. This work presents some of the suggested action levels for skin contamination, their background and rationale, and discusses which implications they might have. The focus is on action levels and guidelines aimed at emergency situations and operations in radioactively contaminated areas.