Facts on Hazel Eyes
Ever since Kelly Clarkson released her hit single “Behind These Hazel Eyes,” people have become increasingly interested in this unique eye colour. But what exactly are hazel eyes? Are they just a light brown? Are they a special tint of green? Who’s most likely to get hazel eyes? Is there a significant difference between hazel and amber?
As you’ll see below, defining hazel eyes isn’t an easy task. There are, however, a few defining features that can help us get a better understanding of this relatively rare eye colour.
How Melanin Determines Eye Colour
Believe it or not, there’s no such thing as a naturally blue, green, amber, or even hazel eye. The colour we see in our eyes is actually a reflection of varying degrees of a brown pigment called melanin. This melanin is stored primarily in an area of the eye known as the iris, which is the coloured part that surrounds the pupil.
Since melanin absorbs light, the irises of people with a greater amount of melanin don’t scatter back as much light. This results in the appearance of a darker shade of brown. People with moderate or low amounts of melanin in their eyes are able to scatter more light out of their irises, which results in the appearance of hazel, green, blue, or grey.
Typically only non-Hispanic whites have rare eye colours like blue, gray, and green. This has to do with the simple fact that people of European ancestry have less melanin in their system.
Indeed, it’s common for children of European ancestry to have bright blue eyes at birth and then develop other colours such as green or hazel a few years later. This is because melanin can take time to fully enter a baby’s irises.
While the majority of people from non-European ethnicities have brown eyes, it is possible for them to acquire hazel or amber eyes. Of course, the likelihood this will occur will be determined by the parents’ genetics.
The Complex Genetics Of Eye Colour
For many years, scientists assumed that two people with a recessive eye colour (e.g. blue) had to produce a child with that recessive trait. Recent research in the field of genetics, however, shows this isn’t the case.
Geneticists now believe there’s a complex interplay between at least 15 different genes that determines a child’s eye colour. For this reason, it’s almost impossible to predict a child’s eye colour with any accuracy beforehand.
The Chameleon Quality Of Hazel Eyes
As we learned above, the appearance of different eye colours is determined by the amount of melanin in the irises. People with more melanin will reflect back less light, resulting in the appearance of darker colours.
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.
One issue people have with hazel eyes is that it’s difficult to pin down exactly what this colour is. Indeed, some people refer to hazel eyes as “chameleon eyes” because they can change drastically in different environments.
Hazel eyes can change from a greenish hue to gold depending on how bright it is in a room. Even the clothes a person wears could significantly influence the perception of an eye colour like hazel.
How Rare Are Hazel Eyes?
If you or a loved one has hazel eyes, then you might be wondering just how rare that eye colour is. Recent statistics suggest only about 5 percent of the global population has this unique eye colour. Amber eyes are just as rare as hazel eyes.
Amazingly, this makes hazel and amber eyes more difficult to find than blue eyes. About 8 percent of people around the world have blue eyes.
The most common eye colour on earth is brown. About 80 percent of people are born with brown eyes, especially in non-European ethnic groups.
The rarest eye colours are green, grey, and red. All of these eye colours only appear in people of European ethnicity and they account for less than 2 percent of the world’s population.
It is possible to have two different eye colours, but this is also rare. About less than 1 percent of the global population have this condition known as heterochromia.
Hazel Versus Amber Eyes
Many people have difficulty telling the difference between hazel and amber eyes. Although these two eye colours are quite similar, they each have their own distinctive characteristics.
Hazel eyes tend to have different pigments around the pupil that change in the middle and on the edges of the iris. Indeed, some people with hazel eyes seem to have different shades of green, orange, gold, and blue all around their eyes.
By contrast, amber eyes tend to be a solid copper colour without any notes of green or blue. Also, people of European ancestry are less likely to have amber eyes compared with people of Hispanic, African, or Asian descent.
Interestingly, amber is one of the most common eye colours in the animal kingdom, especially in cats. You also won’t have a difficult time spotting amber eyes in dogs, fish, and birds.
A Few Celebs With Hazel Eyes
As we noted in the intro, the most prominent celebrity today with hazel eyes is American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson. There are, however, many other people in the film and music industry who rock their hazel eyes. Check out the eyes of these celebs to get a good sense of what hazel eyes are:
• Kristen Stewart
• Demi Moore
• Steve Carell
• Angelina Jolie
• David Beckham.
How To Safely Order Coloured Contact Lenses
If you weren’t fortunate enough to be born with hazel eyes, don’t fret! Thanks to coloured contact lenses, you can change your irises to any colour you want.
Before you pick up your pair of decorative contacts, however, it’s advised to schedule an appointment with an optometrist. Even if you don’t wear contact lenses, you need to have a proper eye exam to ensure you get a properly fitted pair of lenses and that your eyes remain healthy. You’ll also need to get a professional contact lens prescription before ordering your lenses.
After you have your prescription, order a pair of coloured lenses from a reputable company that meets your eye measurements. Once you get these lenses, follow your optometrist's recommendations for wear times and handling.
Never share coloured contact lenses with family or friends to avoid the risk of eye infections. Also, do not swim, shower, or sleep while wearing decorative lenses. All of these activities will increase your of infection.
A Quick Note On Pigmentary Glaucoma
While we’re discussing eye colour, it’s worthwhile briefly noting an increasingly common condition that affects the iris: pigmentary glaucoma. People who have this disorder have tears in their irises that allow pigment to leak into other areas of the eye. Over time, this leaky pigment increases intraocular pressure (IOP), which is a telltale sign of glaucoma.
Doctors say that young men who are nearsighted are more at risk for this disorder than women. Although doctors aren’t sure why men are more prone to this disorder, scientists believe the shape of myopic lenses makes it easier for tears to form on the irises over time.
Since pigmentary glaucoma doesn’t present visual symptoms until it has progressed a great deal, doctors recommend all young men get regular eye checkups to keep tabs on this disorder. Although there’s no cure for glaucoma, doctors can dramatically slow this disease’s progression if they catch it in time.
Typical treatments for pigmentary glaucoma patients include laser surgery and IOP-reducing drugs. Eating a more healthful diet full of fruits, veggies, foods high in vitamin A and omega-3 rich fish could also help glaucoma sufferers.
Rock Those Kelly Clarkson Eyes!
As you can see, hazel is one of the more mysterious eye colours. Indeed, since these eyes change so drastically in different environments, many people with hazel eyes don’t even know they have them! It’s common for people with hazel eyes to be mistaken for amber or green depending on the environment they’re in.
Author: John Dreyer Optometrist Bsc(Hons), MCOPTOM, DipCLP
Created: 27 Apr 2023, Last modified: 3 May 2023