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How do you know your natural eye color?

How do you know your natural eye color?

Determining your true, natural eye color can be tricky. The color of your eyes is determined by the amount and quality of melanin in the iris. However, many factors can influence the appearance of eye color over a person’s lifetime. The use of colored contact lenses, aging, and lighting conditions can all affect the way your eye color looks. By understanding how these different factors impact your eyes, you can get a sense of your underlying, natural eye color.

The Role of Melanin

Melanin is a pigment that gives color to the skin, hair, and eyes. The iris contains two types of melanin:

  • Eumelanin – A brown/black pigment
  • Pheomelanin – A red/yellow pigment

The amount and type of melanin present determines eye color:

Eye Color Melanin Amount
Blue Low amounts of melanin
Green Moderate amounts of melanin
Hazel Moderate amounts of melanin
Brown High amounts of eumelanin
Amber Moderate amounts of pheomelanin
Gray Low amounts of melanin

People with blue eyes have the least amount of melanin. Brown eyes have a lot of eumelanin. Hazel and amber eyes have moderate amounts of both eumelanin and pheomelanin. Your genes determine how much and what type of melanin your body produces.

Genetics of Eye Color

The key genes that influence eye color are:

  • HERC2 – Controls production of eumelanin
  • OCA2 – Controls production of pheomelanin

Different variations in these genes produce more or less melanin pigment:

Gene Variants Melanin Production Typical Eye Color
HERC2 – Guanine base Low eumelanin Blue
HERC2 – Adenine base High eumelanin Brown
OCA2 – Long gene sequence Moderate pheomelanin Green-Hazel
OCA2 – Short gene sequence Low pheomelanin Blue

The versions of these genes you inherit from your parents determine your eye color potential at birth. However, genetics aren’t the only factor that can influence eye appearance.

Environmental Factors

Although genetics establish the potential for certain eye colors, your environment and life experiences can alter their appearance:

  • Lighting – Your eyes can look lighter in bright sunlight and darker in dim lighting.
  • Mood – Emotions may subtly dilate your pupils and change the color intensity.
  • Age – Eye color often darkens somewhat with age as melanin increases.
  • Injury – Trauma can damage the pigment cells and cause lighter eye color.
  • Medications – Some drugs are known to lighten eye color over time.

In childhood, your eye color may appear slightly different than it does once you reach adulthood. Don’t worry too much about small shifts in eye color due to things like mood or lighting. Focus on the most common, consistent eye color you exhibit.

Determine Your Stable, Adult Eye Color

Your eye color in stable lighting when you are a fully grown adult most closely indicates your natural tone. To determine this:

  1. Examine your eyes in natural daylight for consistency.
  2. Have someone else describe your eye color in neutral lighting.
  3. Look closely with a mirror for the dominant hue and patterning.
  4. Verify the lack of contact lenses or color enhancing drugs.
  5. Compare childhood photos for aging effects on your color.

This will give you a good sense of your true, enduring eye color as determined mainly by your genetics and melanin levels. Temporary fluctuations aren’t your real color, even if they persist for months or years.

Special Cases of Eye Color Change

In rare cases, some more permanent changes can occur to eye color:

  • Injury – Damaged iris tissue can lose pigment and take on a lighter tone.
  • Medications – Certain drugs may gradually leach color from the eyes over a long period of time.
  • Disease – Illnesses such as glaucoma or diabetes can impede melanin production.
  • Aging – Elderly people often exhibit fading of dark eye color.

These unusual situations make determining someone’s original, natural eye shade difficult. Looking at old photos and family traits offers helpful clues. For those experiencing pigment loss, their eye color from early adulthood offers the best representation.


Discovering your true eye color requires ruling out temporary influences from lighting, mood, and medications. Comparing your current stable eye color to childhood pictures can reveal if aging has lightened or darkened your eyes over time. While environment can shift appearances, your genetics passed down from parents remain the key determinant. Knowing your natural eye shade takes some careful observation and investigation.