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Hazel Eyes: What Color Is Hazel Anyway?

Hazel Eyes: What Color Is Hazel Anyway?

Reviewed by Thomas Stokkermans, OD, PhD on July 10, 2023

If you have hazel eyes, you’ve probably been told that your eyes look green, brown, brownish-green, or greenish-brown. In fact, all of these descriptions are true because your eyes are not just one color. Read on to learn more about this beguiling eye color.

 

What Color Are Hazel Eyes?

Hazel eyes are a combination of green and brown. For this reason, they’re often described as hazel green or hazel brown. They also can have flecks of other colors such as amber and gold.

A woman with hazel eyes wearing cat-eye eyeglasses

What Causes Hazel Eyes?

All eye colors are determined by a combination of genetics and the amount and type of melanin in your body. Here’s how each factors in:

Genetics

In the past, scientists believed only one gene determined eye color. In other words, if both parents have brown eyes, then their child would too.

But it’s now known that at least 16 genes are responsible for eye color. That’s why it’s possible for two parents with the same eye color to have a child with a different eye color. This is also why it’s sometimes hard to predict what a child’s exact eye color will turn out to be.

Melanin

Melanin is a pigment that occurs naturally in your body and determines your eye color, skin tone, and hair color. In your eyes, melanin is found in the iris — the colored part of the eye surrounding the pupil.

Different-colored eyes have different amounts of melanin, which can be present in one or both layers of the iris. The more melanin you have, the darker your eye color. Brown eyes — from light brown to dark brown — have the most melanin, and blue eyes have the least.

In addition to the amount present, the type of melanin will also determine the color of your eyes. There are two main types of melanin — eumelanin and pheomelanin — that can be present in different amounts. Lighter eyes contain more pheomelanin and darker eyes contain more eumelanin.

Different parts of the iris can have differing amounts of melanin. In hazel-colored eyes, melanin is concentrated in the back layer of the iris. On rare occasions, some of the pigment may also be in the front layer of the iris.

With hazel eyes, the melanin isn’t distributed evenly throughout the iris like with other eye colors. This is one reason it can look like the irises are made up of a few colors instead of one single color like brown.

Hazel vs. Brown

Hazel eyes and brown eyes (the most common eye color) share some traits but there are also a few noticeable differences: 

  • Like other lighter-colored eyes, hazel eyes have less melanin than brown eyes. This means they absorb less light and instead scatter light out away from the iris. 
  • This scattering of light reflects different colors along the spectrum, which causes eyes to appear as colors other than brown. It’s also how hazel eyes sometimes appear to change color. 
  • Brown eyes have a lot of melanin, allowing them to absorb most light and always look brown.

Hazel vs. Green

Sometimes hazel eyes can appear green, but the two colors are not the same: 

  • Green eyes (the rarest eye color in the world) generally contain only one color rather than several.
  • Hazel eyes often appear to have flecks of multiple colors, including green, brown, blue, amber, and gold.

 

How Rare Are Hazel Eyes?

Hazel isn’t the rarest eye color but it’s not very common either. Only about 18% of people in the U.S. have hazel eyes, compared to just 5% of the global population. Here’s how eye colors are represented worldwide according to WorldAtlas: 

  • Green eyes – 2% 
  • Gray eyes – 3%
  • Hazel eyes – 5%
  • Blue eyes – 8% to 10%
  • Brown eyes – 70% to 80%

Worldwide, hazel eyes are most prevalent among people who live in Brazil, the Middle East, and North Africa. They’re also more common among people with Spanish heritage.

A man with hazel eyes wearing oversized eyeglasses

Can Having Hazel Eyes Affect Your Eye Health?

If you have hazel-colored eyes, you could be more likely to experience photophobia, or sensitivity to light. Because your eyes have less melanin than darker eyes, they can’t block as much bright light from the sun, fluorescents, and other light sources.  

Photophobia can also make it hard for you to focus in bright light. This may cause you to squint, rub your eyes, or even feel pain around your eyes. While photophobia doesn’t cause permanent vision loss, the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays can harm your eyes. 

The best way to protect your eyes from the sun is to wear sunglasses with 99% to 100% UV protection when you go out during the day (a wide-brimmed hat helps too!). Glasses with anti-glare lenses may also provide some relief, as will taking frequent breaks and limiting the amount of time you’re exposed to harsh light.

 

Do Hazel Eyes Change Color?

No, hazel eyes generally do not change color. However, since they appear to contain a mixture of colors, your eyes can look different depending on what you’re wearing and the lighting around you. 

Note: If you notice a dramatic change in your eye color, see your eye doctor immediately. It may be the sign of a serious medical condition.

 

Celebrities with Hazel Eyes

Here are some famous folks who have this rare eye shade:

  1. Ben Affleck
  2. Tyra Banks
  3. Adam Brody
  4. Kelly Clarkson
  5. Terrence Howard
  6. Joe Jonas
  7. Heidi Klum
  8. Zachary Levi
  9. Rachel McAdams
  10. Rihanna

No one else in the world has your exact eye color, so why not highlight what you have? Make your one-of-a-kind eyes stand out with new frames in a complementary style, shape, and color.

 

SOURCES

  1. Hazel eyes: Advantages, disadvantages and more. My Vision. July 2022.
  2. Eye color genetics. All About Vision. March 2021.
  3. How eye color develops and why it changes. All About Vision. March 2021.
  4. Your blue eyes aren’t really blue. American Academy of Ophthalmology. June 2023. 
  5. Genome-wide association study in almost 195,000 individuals identifies 50 previously unidentified genetic loci for eye color. Science Advances. March 2021. 
  6. Brown eyes vs. hazel eyes: What’s the difference? My Vision. February 2022.
  7. The world’s population by eye color. WorldAtlas. January 2023.
  8. Myth or fact: Blue eyes are more sensitive to light. Duke Health. July 2021.

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