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Are there different shades of brown eyes?

Are there different shades of brown eyes?

Eyes come in a range of colors, from the common brown and blue to the rare violet and red. But brown eyes have the widest range of shades. Here are some quick facts about brown eyes:

Brown Eyes Overview

Brown is the most common eye color worldwide, with over 55% of people having some shade of brown eyes. The exact shade of brown eyes is determined by how much melanin is present in the iris. More melanin leads to a darker brown shade.

Melanin is a pigment produced by cells called melanocytes. People with brown eyes have a lot of melanin in their irises, while people with blue eyes have very little. Green and hazel eyes fall somewhere in between.

The amount of melanin isn’t consistent across the iris, which allows for different shades and patterns in brown eyes. There can be a ring of darker brown around the pupil or flecks of lighter brown throughout.

Brown eyes get their color from two types of melanin – eumelanin which produces black-brown pigment and pheomelanin which produces yellow-red pigment. Different ratios of these melanins create different shades of brown.

Common Shades of Brown Eyes

Here are some of the most common shades and names used to describe brown eyes:

  • Dark brown – Very dark shade that looks nearly black or black from a distance.
  • Chocolate brown – Richer, warmer shade of brown.
  • Chestnut brown – Reddish shade of brown.
  • Honey brown – Golden brown or amber color.
  • Hazel – Mix of brown and green with a multicolored appearance.
  • Light brown – Very light tan or golden shade of brown.

The eye color wheel below shows the range of brown shades from lightest to darkest:

Light golden brown Reddish brown Medium brown Dark hazel Very dark brown

What Causes Different Shades of Brown Eyes?

As mentioned earlier, the specific amount and ratio of eumelanin and pheomelanin in the iris determines the shade of brown eyes. Here are some key factors that influence melanin production and lead to different shades:

  • Genetics – Genes passed down from parents largely determine how much and what type of melanin is produced. Dark brown eyes are a dominant genetic trait while light brown and hazel eyes are recessive.
  • Ethnicity – Populations from Asia and Africa tend to have very dark brown eyes due to high eumelanin levels. Light brown eyes are more common in Europe.
  • Age – Melanin levels can decrease slightly as people get older, making brown eyes get lighter over time.
  • Eye injury or trauma – Inflammation from injuries or conditions like glaucoma can temporarily change melanin production and brown eye color.

While genetics play the biggest role, the amount of melanin in brown eyes can fluctuate somewhat over a person’s lifetime. Exposure to sunlight can also temporarily make brown eyes appear slightly darker.

What Do Different Shades of Brown Eyes Say About You?

Some people believe that eye color and personality are linked. But there is no scientific evidence that brown-eyed people have different personality traits than people with other eye colors. Here are some common perceptions about shades of brown eyes:

  • Dark brown eyes – Authoritative, powerful, and serious
  • Medium brown eyes – Approachable, friendly, balanced personality
  • Light brown / hazel eyes – Sensitive, impulsive, romantic

Most eye color personality associations like these are not backed by science and are considered pseudoscience. Some studies have looked for links between eye color and personality traits like empathy, risk-taking, sensitivity, or intro/extroversion. But the findings have been inconsistent and inconclusive.

Eye color does not define someone’s character or who they are as a person. Brown-eyed individuals have diverse personalities like anyone else.

How Common Are Different Brown Eye Shades?

Globally, here is how common different shades of brown eyes are among populations with brown eyes:

Brown Eye Shade Global Prevalence
Dark brown 45%
Medium to dark brown 25%
Medium brown 15%
Light to medium brown 8%
Light golden brown 7%

As shown above, darker shades of brown are much more common globally than light brown eyes. The largest group is nearly black dark brown eyes at 45% of the brown-eyed population.

Are Brown Eyes Less Common Than They Used to Be?

The global proportion of people with brown eyes has decreased somewhat over the past century. Here are estimates of the distribution of eye colors worldwide over time:

Eye Color 1900 2022
Brown 70-80% 55%
Blue 10-15% 25%
Green 2-5% 8%
Hazel 5% 5%
Other 2-5% 7%

The decrease in brown eyes over the past century is likely due to increasing intermarriage between people of different ancestral origins. This means there are more mixed eye colors today. But brown eyes remain the most common eye color by far globally.


In summary, brown eyes come in many shades from light golden brown to nearly black dark brown. Subtle variations in the production and ratio of melanin pigments are responsible for the full spectrum of brown eye colors. While perceptions exist around different brown eye shades, these associations are not grounded in science.

Brown eyes are less dominant globally than they were a century ago. But they still account for over half of the world’s population. So brown eyes exhibit diverse shades – and these distinctions are only skin deep.