The Science of Hazel Eyes (2024)

The Science of Hazel Eyes (1)

Wondering if you have hazel eyes? What are hazel eyes exactly? Although most of us have heard of hazel eyes, many people aren’t quite sure what color they actually are, or if they have hazel eyes themselves. Read this guide for answers to all your hazel eye-related questions, including what the actual hazel eye color is, how someone can get hazel green eyes or hazel brown eyes, how rare hazel eyes are, and how to tell if you have hazel eyes.

What Are Hazel Eyes? What Is the Hazel Eye Color?

The defining feature of hazel eyes is their mix of colors. All hazel eyes will have some combination of brown/gold and green coloring, sometimes with flecks of blue as well. This is why hazel eyes appear different than brown, green, or blue eyes, which are a solid color. Hazel eyes are often lighter/more green in one part of the iris (either the center or the edges of the iris) and darker/more brown in the other part.

There are two main types of hazel eyes: those with brown as the dominant color in the iris and those with green as the dominant color. While all hazel eyes will have a combination of green and brown colors, the difference in dominant colors is why hazel eyes can appear either mostly green or mostly brown. This variety in color can cause some confusion, but as long as there is a mixture of green and brown in the iris, the eyes are hazel.

How Does Someone Get Hazel Eyes?

You probably guessed that your genetics (the DNA you get from your mother and father) determine what color eyes you have, but eye color is actually one of the more complicated genetic inheritance processes. In fact, there are so many potential eye colors and so many factors that determine eye color, that it’s practically impossible to predict the eye color children of any couple will have, even if both parents have, say, blue eyes or brown eyes.

Scientists still don’t completely understand how eye color is determined, but they believe it could be influenced by up to 16 genes that work together to determine the color of an individual’s eyes. This is why two blue-eyed parents may end up with a child with brown eyes, something that wouldn’t seem possible with more straightforward genetic inheritance. The inheritance of eyes that aren’t a solid color, such as hazel eyes, is even less understood.

Once the genotype (the actual genes) of an individual is set, two factors influence eye phenotype (how the eye color actually appears). The first is the amount of melanin in the eye’s iris, and the second is how the light is scattered in the iris. People with darker eyes have more melanin in their eyes than people with lighter eyes, and light can be scattered in the stroma of the iris in a variety of ways.

People with hazel eyes have a moderate amount of melanin in their eyes to account for both the green and brown coloring. The melanin tends to be concentrated in the outer portion of the iris, so the inner part of the eye is often lighter than the outer part (although sometimes this is flipped, so the inner part of the iris is darkest). The way light scatters in hazel irises is a result of Rayleigh scattering, the same optical phenomenon that causes the sky to appear blue. Anyone can be born with hazel eyes, but it’s most common in people of Brazilian, Middle Eastern, North African, or Spanish descent.

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Are Hazel Eyes Rare?

Estimating how rare different eye color types are can be difficult, both because there’s not a lot of data available, and because labeling different eye colors is not always an exact science. However, hazel is definitely one of the rarer eye colors. It’s estimated that only about 5% of the population has hazel eyes. Brown is the most common eye color, and roughly 55% to 80% of the population has brown eyes. Blue eyes are the next most common color, and about 8-10% of people have blue eyes.

Can Eyes Change Color?

It’s rare for eyes to change color, but it can happen. The eye color of most people is set at birth or soon after and remains the same for life. However, puberty, pregnancy, trauma, and age can all cause eye color to change, although it’s very rare for this to happen. Except for rare and serious eye diseases, when eye color does change, it happens slowly and is a permanent change. Eyes don’t change color for a few minutes or days then revert back to their original color.

You may think your eyes change color depending on the day or have heard someone say that their eyes change color based on their mood, temperature, etc. However, this isn’t true. If you notice your eye color suddenly looks different than usual, it’s almost always due to lighting. Eye irises can look very different under different amounts and types of light, and light also affects the size of your eye pupil (the black circle in the center of your eye). Pupil size can be affected by your emotions, which is why some people may think their eyes change color when they are feeling angry, sad, etc. However, while your eye may look momentarily different, your actual eye color isn’t changing.

Hazel eyes can often appear to change colors more than other eye colors. Because they contain a variety of pigments, not just a solid hue, they can look very different under different lighting. But, again, your iris itself isn’t actually changing color. What’s happening is different shades of the eye are being highlighted at the moment, which can make them appear different than their usual color.

If you really want a certain eye shade, can you use technology to change your eye color? Yes, but it’s still a fairly new and risky surgery. If you have brown eyes, you can have laser surgery on your eyes to remove the melanin and make them appear blue. Silicone implants can also be implanted into a slit made in the eye’s cornea to change eye color. However, risks are substantial for both of these procedures, and potential side effects include eye disease and even blindness.

If you want to change your eye color, the best way to do so is to wear colored contacts. This isn’t a permanent solution, but as long as you get the contacts from a reputable source and make sure they’re fitted properly, risks are minimal, and you can remove the contacts whenever you want to go back to your original eye color. If you’re interested, we recommend setting up an appointment with an ophthalmologist so you can be sure the contacts you get are safe and fit you well.

How Can You Tell If You Have Hazel Eyes?

Do you have hazel eyes? The best way to figure out what color eyes you have is to observe your eyes in natural sunlight (no artificial lighting). Try to have a white background behind you to get the most accurate look at your eye color. Hold a mirror (an actual mirror is better than a phone screen, which can distort colors) close to your face, so that you can see one eye clearly. Hazel eyes will have a mixture of green, brown, and gold colors, often with a burst of one color close to the pupil, while the outer part of the iris is a different color.

Eyes that are primarily blue or a solid hue of any color aren’t hazel. If your eyes are a solid copper or yellow-gold color, with very little green, then they are considered amber, not hazel. If you still aren’t sure what color your eyes are, use this guide for additional help.

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Image source: Wikimedia commons

Summary: Hazel Eye Color

What are hazel eyes? Hazel eyes are eyes that have a combination of green, gold, and brown coloring, which sets them apart from most other eyes, which are a solid color. The amount of each color can vary among different people with hazel eyes, which can cause hazel green eyes or hazel brown eyes. Hazel eyes are fairly rare, and only about 5% of the population has them.

Can eyes change color? It’s very unusual for eyes to change color in adulthood, but if you really want hazel eyes, you can wear colored contacts to temporarily change how your eyes look.

What's Next?

What are the most important science classes to take in high school?Check out our guide to learn all the high school classes you should be taking.

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The Science of Hazel Eyes (4)

Christine Sarikas

About the Author

Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.

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The Science of Hazel Eyes (2024)


What is the science behind hazel eyes? ›

What Causes Hazel Eyes? As with other eye colors, a hazel eye color boils down to genetics and the amount of melanin in your eyes. Melanin is a substance that produces pigmentation in your body. It helps determine skin color, hair color, and eye color.

What do hazel eyes say about your ancestry? ›

People with hazel eyes can have a mixed ancestral lineage from Europe and Asia, which makes it difficult to trace just where this unique eye color came from.

What race has hazel eyes? ›

Hazel. Approximately 5% of the world's population and 18% of people in the U.S. have hazel eyes, which are a mixture of green, orange, and gold. Hazel eyes are more common in North Africa, the Middle East, and Brazil, as well as in people of Spanish heritage.

What is the color theory of hazel eyes? ›

Hazel Eyes - The amazing thing about the hazel eye is that the dominant shade can be dictated by the color of eye makeup you choose. Shades of forest green and dark purple bring out the green in hazel eyes. Shades of blue and grey will highlight your blue undertones.

Is it special to have hazel eyes? ›

Only about 5 percent of the population worldwide has the hazel eye genetic mutation. After brown eyes, they have the most melanin. . The combination of having less melanin (as with green eyes) and a lot of melanin (like brown eyes) make this eye color unique.

Are Hazel the prettiest eyes? ›

Hazel Is Considered the Most Attractive Eye Color in Females

The other prettiest eye colors in order of popularity were: Purple – 19.88% Black – 17.70% Blue – 17.39%

What color eyes did Vikings have? ›

Yes, the ancient Norsem*n of the Viking Age were commonly known to have blue eyes. This distinct physical trait is often associated with the Scandinavian region and its historical inhabitants.

Why are hazel eyes so attractive? ›

Hazel eyes typically blend brown and green hues, but they come in various varieties. Some lean towards a noticeable green tint, while others incorporate more brown, gray, or even hints of blue. This rich diversity makes hazel eyes unique and captivating, with each person's eye color showcasing its own distinct charm.

What country has the most hazel eyes? ›

Hazel eyes:

About 5% of the world's population and 18% of Americans have hazel eyes -- a mixture of green, gold, and orange. Hazel eyes are most common in North Africa, the Middle East, Brazil, and Spain.

Do hazel eyes change color with age? ›

In most people, the answer is no. Eye color fully matures in infancy and remains the same for life. But in a small percentage of adults, eye color can naturally become either noticeably darker or lighter with age. What determines eye color is the pigment melanin.

What is the difference between hazel and green eyes? ›

Reality: Hazel eyes and green eyes share some similarities, but hazel eyes typically have a mix of colors, including brown and gold. Green eyes, on the other hand, have a more uniform green hue. The distinction lies in the combination of tones present in hazel eyes.

What are some interesting facts about hazel eyes? ›

According to the World Atlas, 5 percent of the world population has hazel eyes. The color of hazel eyes can appear somewhat different depending on the color of clothing someone wears and how light reflects. Scientists often use the term chameleon to describe the changeable quality of hazel eyes.

What are the facts about hazel eyes? ›

People with hazel eyes tend to have a moderate amount of melanin in their irises. Specifically, the amount of melanin in a hazel-eyed person is higher than in green eyes and lower than in amber eyes. This moderate amount of melanin results in the unique gold-green colour associated with hazel eyes.

What hair color goes with hazel eyes? ›

Hazel eyes have flecks of gold, green, and brown, so it's best to play them up with warm-toned blondes, browns, and reds if you really want your eye color to stand out. If your hazel eyes have a lot of green in them, rich red shades like auburn and copper will work best for you.

Is Hazel the rarest eye color? ›

Of those four, green is the rarest. It shows up in about 9% of Americans but only 2% of the world's population. Hazel/amber is the next rarest color after green. Blue is the second most common and brown tops the list, found in 45% of the U.S. population and possibly almost 80% worldwide.

How rare are hazel eyes in the US? ›

A blend of brown and green, hazel eyes represent 18% of the American population. Most of the bronze color tends to settle near the outer edge of the iris, while tiny streaks of brown, green and even gold are seen closer to the pupil. But like green eyes, hazel eyes tend to be much rarer elsewhere in the world.

Are hazel eyes an Irish trait? ›

In summary, while hazel eyes are more common in Irish and Celtic populations compared to global averages and other ethnicities, they are not exclusively an Irish trait.


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