The Rarest Eye Colors
Red and Violet Eyes
Red and violet are the rarest eye colors. When they do occur, they’re generally found in people with albinism, a rare genetic disorder that prevents the body from producing melanin. Since there is no melanin (or pigmentation) in the eyes, the blood vessels in the eyes become visible. When light reflects off the blood vessels, the eyes look pale red or violet.
If you have green eyes, you have one of the rarest eye colors on Earth. Only 9% of people in the U.S. and 2% of people around the world have green eyes. So why are green eyes so rare? The answer is genetics and specifically, a genetic mutation. Green eyes are unique because they have less melanin than brown eyes but more than blue eyes.
Hazel eyes are a combination of green and brown eyes. With approximately 18% of Americans and 5% of people globally having hazel eyes, they’re a bit more common than green eyes.
Hazel eyes have the same amount of melanin as brown eyes, but the melanin is located mostly near the edge of the iris (not throughout). Hazel eyes may have streaks of brown, green and gold closer to the pupil.
About 3% of the world’s population has gray eyes. They are similar to blue eyes but have more melanin in the front layer, which makes them look gray.
Amber eyes are a little more common than gray, with about 5% of people having them. They may look hazel but they have more pigment. Amber eyes may also have higher levels of a melanin variant called lipochrome, which appears gold- or orange-tinted. Amber eyes are more common among animals such as wolves, dogs, owls, eagles, cats, pigeons and fish.
People with lighter eyes are at a higher risk for UV damage from the sun. If you have light-colored eyes and wear contact lenses, you can get contacts with protection against harmful UV-A and UV-B rays. It’s also important to wear sunglasses when you go outside.
The Most Common Eye Colors
Brown is the most common eye color — 70% to 80% of people worldwide and 45% of Americans have brown eyes.
Brown is said to be the “original” eye color because it’s the color early humans had hundreds of thousands of years ago in modern-day Africa. Back then, everyone had dark brown eyes, and most people in Africa and Asia today still have dark brown eyes. It’s also a common eye color among people in the Middle East.
Millions of people in other parts of the world, including the U.S. and Europe, also have brown eyes, but the shade tends to be lighter.
Blue eyes are second most common around the world. About 9% of people globally have blue eyes, and 27% of people in the U.S. have them. They’re even more common in Europe: More than 50% of people in the United Kingdom and Ireland have blue eyes and up to 90% of the population of Finland and Sweden have blue eyes.
Here’s an interesting fact about people with blue eyes — everyone who has blue eyes is related. About 10,000 years ago, someone was born in Europe with a genetic mutation that turned off that gene’s ability to produce brown eyes and instead resulted in blue eyes. That was the first person with blue eyes, and everyone who has blue eyes today is a descendant of this person.
The Factors that Determine Eye Color
Your eye color is determined by genetics, melanin, where you live, certain eye conditions and colored contact lenses.
Scientists previously believed that only one gene determined eye color, so if your parents both have brown eyes, you would too. In the past several years, though, research has found there are actually up to 16 genes that influence eye color. That’s why it’s possible for brown-eyed parents to have a child with blue eyes.
Melanin is the pigment in your body that’s responsible for your eye, skin and hair color. The amount of melanin you have is passed down from your parents.
The more melanin you have in your iris (the colored part of your eye), the darker it will be. For instance, if your eyes are blue, they have the least amount of melanin. If your eyes have a bit more melanin, they will be a darker color such as green, hazel or brown.
In addition to determining your eye, skin and hair color, melanin also helps protect you from sun damage. People who live in hotter climates need more melanin for sun protection than people in cooler areas of the world. This is one reason why most northern Europeans have lighter eyes such as blue and green.
Heterochromia is a mostly harmless genetic mutation that causes a person to have more than one eye color. There are three types of heterochromia:
- Complete heterochromia, in which each eye is a completely different color.
- Central heterochromia, in which the irises have multiple colors.
- Sectoral heterochromia, in which the eyes have a second color in the shape of a slice or wedge.
Albinism is a rare genetic condition that can affect eye color. It blocks the body’s ability to produce or move melanin throughout the body. Depending on the type of albinism a person has, their eye color can range from light pink to light blue.
Colored Contact Lenses
You can enhance your natural eye color or change it completely with colored contact lenses. You can get colored contacts with or without vision correction, on a daily wear or monthly replacement schedule. They’re available in a variety of colors, such as brilliant blue, gemstone green and sterling gray.
Even though millions of people may have the same color eyes as you, your eye color is unique to you. Take care of your eyes so they can take care of you.