Edmund is a biostatistician with over 10 years of experience in clinical research. He loves to study human-inherited traits.
This is one of those questions that seems like it should have an easy answer when it really doesn’t. In fact, there is some debate over what the rarest eye color actually is. This is partly because "rare” itself can be a relative term, since one eye color might be very rare in a certain part of the world and extremely common in another.
Though hard scientific evidence is hard to come by, we can say with certainty what some of the less common colors are.
What Is the Rarest Eye Color?
|Eye colors from most rare to most common:|
• Green, Amber and Violet/Red (these three are extremely rare)
• Black (no eyes are true black, just very dark brown)
Though the scientific research is lacking, it is very likely that green is one of the most rare eye colors worldwide. It's commonly quoted that only 2% of the world’s population has green eyes, though it’s difficult to determine where that number came from.
Even if the number is accurate, 2% of the world's 7.3 billion people is 146 million. This is roughly the population of Russia. That's not to say that green eyes aren't special, because they are! It just depends on where you happen to be. In most parts of the world, almost everyone has brown hair and eyes, with green being very rare or absent altogether.
Green eyes are sometimes confused with hazel eyes, which have both brown and green in them. To tell the difference, go into natural lighting (outside during the day), and look at your eyes compared with someone you know to have green, hazel, or brown eyes. The difference should be clear between them.
Where Do Green Eyes Originate From?
Green eyes are most common in Northern and Central Europe though they can also be found in Southern Europe as well as Western Asia. As was mentioned earlier, brown hair and eyes are dominant in most regions, though there are several countries where it is actually more common to have green or blue eyes than brown eyes.
For example, in Ireland and Scotland, 86% of the population has either blue or green eyes, and in Iceland, 89% of women and 87% of men have blue or green eyes. Among European Americans, green eyes are most common in people of recent Celtic or Germanic ancestry. Green eyes also tend to be more common in women.
Even though they're most common in Northern and Central Europe, people of any race can have green eyes.
Celebrities with Green Eyes
- Emma Stone
- Amanda Seyfried
- Clive Owen
- Jon Hamm
- Eddie Redmayne
- Kate Middleton
- Gael Garcia Bernal
Violet and Red Eyes
This might be disappointing for some, but true violet or red-colored eyes do not occur naturally in humans. Some eyes, however, can appear to be violet under certain lighting or makeup conditions.
Elizabeth Taylor is famous for her violet eyes, though in reality she just has very blue eyes that can look violet depending on the lighting. She does, however, have a row of double eyelashes, a rare genetic mutation.
People with albinism, a condition that causes a complete lack of or very low levels of pigment in the skin, hair, and eyes, sometimes appear to have violet or red eyes. This phenomenon is explained below.
Also Very Rare: Amber Eyes
True amber eyes are extremely rare—they are at least as rare as green eyes or perhaps even rarer. Most people have only seen a couple of amber-eyed people in their entire life.
Amber eyes are completely solid and have a strong yellowish, golden, or russet and coppery tint. They can also contain a small amount of gold-ish gray. Some sources say that this could be due to the increased presence of a pigment called lipochrome (also known as pheomelanin).
Amber eyes are often referred to as wolf eyes because of the strong golden and yellowish color with a copper tint similar to that seen in the eyes of wolves. Besides wolves, amber eye color can also be found in other animals, like dogs, domestic cats, owls, eagles, pigeons and fish.
The Difference Between Amber and Other Eye Colors
Amber eyes are different from hazel eyes because they do not contain hints of brown, green, or orange. While hazel eyes might change color or contain flecks of red or gold, amber eyes are always a solid gold hue.
In poor lighting, it's easy to mistake someone with amber eyes for someone with hazel eyes. In natural lighting, however, you’ll see that hazel eyes tend to have two very distinct colors within the iris. They are often brown and green, and contain speckles and mixed hues.
Celebrities with Amber Eyes Include:
- Nicole Richie
- Nikki Reid
- Evangeline Lilly
- Darren Criss
- Rochelle Aytes
- Joey Kern
Contrary to popular belief, true black eyes do not exist. Some people with a lot of melanin in their eyes might appear to have black eyes depending on the lighting conditions. This is not truly black, however, but simply a very dark brown.
The Science Behind Eye Color
Eye color is more complicated than it might seem, as it's determined by a wide range of factors and can depend to some extent on circumstance, especially lighting.
Eye color is determined by:
- Amount and type of melanin in the colored part of your eye called the iris
- The density and composition of the stroma, a thin tissue in your iris
- Lighting conditions (especially for people with light-colored eyes)
Eye Color and Genetics
Genetics determines how much pigment is present in the iris of your eye. Up to 16 different genes play a role in determining eye color though there are two main genes that have the most influence.
How Melanin Affects Eye Color
Melanin is the most common pigment, and it is found in the eyes, hair, and skin. There are several types of melanin, including pheomelanin (which looks more red and yellow) and eumelanin (which tends to look brown and black).
You might have noticed that there is no blue or green pigment mentioned, which means there is no green or blue pigment ever present in the eye. There is only one kind of pigment, melanin, and its derivatives. So how can a pigment that only produces shades of brown create eyes that look green or blue?
While the first half of eye color has to do with what's already in your eye, the other half has to do with what goes into it: Light!
How Light Affects Eye Color
Your iris has two layers, a front and a back one, and in between those is a thin layer of tissue called the stroma, which has proteins in it (namely collagen). This will become important later.
Everyone has some kind of pigment in their iris, which usually includes a layer of melanin on the back of the iris. The only exception to this is for some people with albinism, who completely lack pigment in their iris.
So, technically speaking, everyone (cases of albinism excepted) has the same eye color. The difference comes with how it's perceived, which is due to the amount and type of melanin in the front layer of the iris and how light interacts with it.
Melanin Content and Eye Color
|Eye color||Melanin Presence on Front Layer of Iris||Melanin Presence on Back Layer of Iris||Dominant Pigment Type|
Even less than blue
More than blue eyes, less than brown
More than green, less than brown
Pheomelanin and Eumelanin
Red or Violet
None or extremely little
None or extremely little
Biology Behind the Color: Eye by Eye
Blue-eyed people have no or little melanin on the front layer of the iris, so as light goes through the eye, it hits the back of the iris and then reflects out. As it goes through the stroma, the presence of proteins causes blue light to scatter, which makes the eye look blue.
This phenomenon (the scattering of light by particles much smaller than the wavelength of radiation) is called Rayleigh scattering, and it's the same reason the sky appears to be blue.
Unfortunately, we don’t really know why people have gray eyes. There are, however, some theories on where gray eyes come from:
- Gray-eyed people could have an even smaller amount of melanin in their eyes than blue-eyed people.
- They could have a different composition of the stroma that causes the light to scatter differently.
Brown-eyed people have melanin in both parts of their irises, so the effect of the light-scattering cannot be seen. The eyes appear darker because more light is absorbed, and variations in color and shade of brown come from the amount of melanin present.
The front iris layer of green-eyed individuals has only a small amounts of melanin which tends to be the red or yellowish pheomelanin. Since the melanin concentration is very low, the light scattering effect gives off a blue color, which mixes with the yellowish color of the pheomelanin, making the eye look green.
Amber eyes get their color from the increased presence of lipochrome (pheomelanin) in the iris.
Red or Violet Eyes
People with albinism are often considered to have violet or red eyes. However, the truth is a little more complicated. Albinism is a condition that causes people to have a lack of pigment in their hair, skin, and eyes. Since people with albinism lack pigment in their iris, light can bounce off the back of the eye and exit the eye.
The light usually reflects back red because of the blood vessels at the back of the retina. Eyes can look violet when this red color combines with the bluish color of the iris that results from a lack of melanin, and the aforementioned light-scattering effects.
In fact, the reason the eyes look red is the same reason you might have red-eye in a photograph, which results from light reflecting off the back of the eye and passing back out through the iris. In normal eyes and lighting conditions, light cannot exit the eye like this.
Why is the Sky Blue (Same Reason Eyes Are Blue)
Why Eye Color Appears to Change
Many people with blue, green, or hazel eyes commonly notice that their eyes change color depending on:
- What they’re wearing
This is because blue and green eyes get their color from the quality and quantity of light, not from pigment.
Thus, different lighting conditions will change the quality of the eye. Mood can change the size of the pupil, which might make the iris appear to be a different color. The quantity of melanin is not changing, but simply the way that the light is reflecting and scattering through the iris.
Can You Change Your Eye Color Naturally?
A baby's eye color can change in the first couple of years. After that, the eye color will most likely remain the same and the only way to change the appearance of your eye color is through makeup, clothing, lighting, and color contacts.
Putting honey in your eyes will not change your eye color permanently, though it could cause you to go blind. The reason some people see their eye color change from honey is due to the inflammation of the cornea as it tries to remove it from the eye.
Can I Find Out What My Child's Eye Color Will Be?
Unfortunately, it's impossible to predict with certainty what a child's eye color will be. In fact, scientists still don't have a way to accurately guess eye color since there are up to sixteen different genes that could be responsible for helping to determine eye color.
Though scientists used to believe that it was a relatively simple case of blue eyes being a recessive gene, and brown eyes being a dominant gene, it's now been found that eye color is determined by as many as 16 different genes. In fact, almost any combinations of parent-child eye color can occur. In general, darker colors tend to dominate lighter colors.
That said, we do know that the main genes found to determine eye color are OCA2 and HERC2. There is a fun tool that you can use to try to guess your future baby's eye color based on your eyes, your siblings' eyes, and your parents eyes.
Here's the eye-color calculator if you want to give it a try!
Other Color Variations
There are other variations that can occur in eye color aside from basic color. As you've learned, the iris is a complicated place! Its color comes from the combined effect of texture, pigmentation, fibrous tissue and blood vessels within the iris and stroma. Here are some other eye variations that can occur.
This is where one eye is differently colored from another one, or one iris has different colors in it. Kate Bosworth is a good example of this. This results from uneven melanin content.
A limbal ring is a dark ring around the iris of an eye. Since they fade with age, they usually signify youth and are considered attractive.
Eye Color Is Not Black and White
If you look at your friends’ eyes, you might find it hard to figure out exactly what color they are. Many eyes look like they have different colors toward the middle versus towards the edge, or have small variations around the iris.
This is especially true for people with lighter colored eyes. You might also notice flecks of color in them. Each of this is part of what makes each eye extremely unique. Irises (like fingerprints) are highly unique. Even genetically identical people, like twins, have different iris textures.
The more you look at eyes, the more you'll notice how unique each and every one is. So just remember that your eyes are special, no matter what color they are!
From The Tech Museum of Innovation:
From Ask a Mathematician:
So, what is the rarest eye color in humans?
Unfortunately, there is no eye color that has been fully agreed upon as the rarest, though green-eyed and amber-eyed people are both extremely rare. In fact, the rarest eye color is different in different geographical locations. In some parts of the world, green eyes are rarer than amber eyes or vice versa.
Most people consider green to be the rarest eye color in the world, though many others consider amber to be even more unusual. Therefore, it’s safe to say that either green or amber is the rarest color in the world.
However, If you look at the eye as a whole and not only the color given off by the iris, then violet eye color with little dispute is probably even rarer than green or amber eye colors.
Eye Color Poll
kolashi on August 31, 2020:
“Black eyes” aren’t rare it’s just brown smh
sao fan on August 31, 2020:
i have very very dark brown eyes they litterly look black. It is hard to see my pulpes even in the sun. the only way you can really see my eye color is if my face is touching a light bulb, and when i am close to the light bulb my eyes look like a mixer between brown and orange yet kind of amber. I have a thin black line around the brown kind of amber part. I also have kind of gray dots in the middle(^○^)
friends on August 31, 2020:
i have grey and amber eyes. there kinda a mix
hi on August 18, 2020:
i have weird eyes with blue around the pupil then an amber with brown lines all around my iris and a grey outline. i have never met someone with my eye color but i want to someday
Ecylia on July 23, 2020:
Very dark grey eyes can also look black. Mine sometimes look black, as you can see in my profile image, but they are not brown, they are gray.
Tya on July 20, 2020:
I have black eyes I used to think that’s really common but I just found out that black eyes r rare
HiMayiAsk69 on July 17, 2020:
So my parents used to say that i had greyish blue eyes when i was younger and so now im older and my eyes have turned a diffrent color, now i have hazel eyes or green with still a bit of grey in them
Meowz on June 24, 2020:
My eyes are dark brown but I have a prominent dark blue limbal ring :P
Mary1 on June 23, 2020:
My eyes are grey green with a grey ring. They can change to blue depending on what if I'm wearing or how I feel, energetic or tired. I found this interesting.
Cris on June 18, 2020:
I have really dark red eyes
your amazing squad on June 18, 2020:
HEY every body each and every one of you have beautiful eye colours i have black eyes
Dark on June 15, 2020:
I have Dark brown eyes when they are in the sun the are golden is that rare???
Britton Quinn on June 14, 2020:
I have sea green colored eyes and love them.
Ethan Yang on June 06, 2020:
I have black eyes, is that rare?
Huh on June 05, 2020:
Mine are a ring of coloursfrom outwards in, blue to green to hazel
Ethan Yang on June 02, 2020:
Oh, and I have black or really really dark eyes, even if I were in sunlight, nothing changes, my eyes are like, really, black. But not black at the same time.
Ethan Yang on June 02, 2020:
Survey After Test: the 3 rarest eye colors finally sorted out. Amber, 5%, 390,000,000 have it. Green, 2%, 156,000,000 have it. Purple/Violet and NOT red, 0.00000076%, 600 have it! It sounds like we have a champion here! If you have Purple Eyes, dark purple, purple, royal purple, or blue purple, your on the very unique side! But I bet none of you guys don’t, so ya bye! :)
Ethan Yang on June 01, 2020:
Hello, Edmund Custors, I love this website so much, if there were ratings I would give this a 5.99 star rating, but I’d like this one change: Can you make it so we can comment again? Like, once I comment, I have to reload the page and scroll all the way here, and it really annoys me. But anyway, great content! Thanks for this website, I love it!
This is Me on June 01, 2020:
Heh, I’m NOPE, but I need to ask something, no one really talks about violet eyes, hmm, I’m thinking that it’s because they are so rare
Nope on June 01, 2020:
I wanted to see purple eyes too! I know you cannot have them without albinism, but I’m a huge fan of purple eyes, I’d say violet eyes are the rarest. Can I have a fact that the percentage of amber eyes are 5% in the world, green at 2%, but... PURPLE at 0.00000076%... MY GOSH and it’s really true... honest
Nope on June 01, 2020:
I wanted to see if they were rare, and fortunately, they were! I feel special now XD
Nope on June 01, 2020:
I have Black Eyes :)
Timileyin on June 01, 2020:
I have brown eyes.
Olivia on May 31, 2020:
my eyes are green and wanted to see if they were rare
dont need to know my name on May 30, 2020:
my eyes were dark blue and its turning silver....
... on May 29, 2020:
I have red eyes and idk why and I wanna ask if its rare?
Damon on May 28, 2020:
My eye colour changed from aqua blue straight to grey
SDB from Australia on May 27, 2020:
Enjoyed your article Edmund, fascinating topic.
jared on May 25, 2020:
i have brown red eyes mixed
... on May 14, 2020:
dark blue outside, light blue inside, green-yellow in middle
Eva on May 13, 2020:
My eyes are one blue and one green. Heterochromia Iridium is caused by eye trauma like surgery. Only 1% of the population has it.
Emily on May 12, 2020:
My eye are Blue-gray-green.Cool
Rob on May 06, 2020:
My eyes are black.. literally. If you were to shine light in my eyes it wouldn't change.
Sage on May 05, 2020:
My eye’s are grey. No question about it. I do have flecks of lime green around the iris though, but I am told this is normal with people of grey eyes.
Josh on April 22, 2020:
My eyes are green and a bit yellow, is this rare?
Finn on April 22, 2020:
My eyes are such a dark brown I have often been told they look black,even at the opticians
Hmm on April 22, 2020:
I have blue-green eyes, kind of like a teal, but darker. Is that rare?
Hi on April 20, 2020:
I have completely green eyes and I know but sometimes they look blue in dark rooms and sometimes when I’m angry or sad their brown- why?
Archie Coleman on April 18, 2020:
My son was born with black, not dark brown eyes. When he was about 12 or 13 they started changing colors and are now hazel. His pediatrician was amazed because he had never seen black eyes
R on April 18, 2020:
I have a weird eye colour. They're amber in the center , blue aqua on the outer and I also have a Dark blue limbal. I've never meet anyone with my eye colour.
TommyT on April 17, 2020:
I have green eyes that alternate between blue and gray on some days. I haven't figured out why yet though.
MKNick10 on April 14, 2020:
OMG I have green eyes with some grey!
Is two colors in one eye rarer? why?
I was born with deep dark blue eyes and now at the age of 15, I have greeny with a touch of grey eyes: how's that?
My father has green eyes and my mother dark (very dark) brown
Unknown on April 08, 2020:
I have light brown eyes that sometimes look hazel in some lighting. But when outside I have natural light brown eyes.
Will burke on April 08, 2020:
My eyes are incredibly complex. The outer ring is a deep blue and moving into the pupil, the colour changes from blue to yellow to green to dark green to blue to grey to silver.
Nick on March 31, 2020:
I have dark brown eyes
Hash Harith on March 29, 2020:
I've got light brown eyes with flecks of black throughout them.
Mingo Taylor on March 26, 2020:
My eyes are Green, I am from Oslo, Norway.
no on March 25, 2020:
mine are a mix of blue-gray-green
Onyx on March 25, 2020:
my eyes are golden amber
Catherine vonberg on March 21, 2020:
My are very dark brown sometimes my friends think there black
Jessie on March 17, 2020:
My eyes are so dark my friends and I can’t see my pupils... it’s creepy!
Alexander Sadony on March 16, 2020:
My Eyes are Light Blue with Green in the center ring.
Finch Deer on March 13, 2020:
My eyes are mostly silver, with a slight tint of green. If the lighting is odd my eyes appear more like a light blueish-grey, but under normal or natural lighting they are always the silverish-green described before. I also have a very dark blue ring around the edge of my iris that is only super noticeable up close.
Nick on March 12, 2020:
I have a light brown centre ring with like 16 spikes around the circumference with a light green outer ring. Also a limbial ring.
The Bloody Baroness on March 12, 2020:
I have black eyes, brown eyes, orange eyes and sort of blue eyes. The color of mine depend on how much light there is.
Nugget_Master3094 on March 05, 2020:
Lol ,I have silver (grey) color shift eyes. They shift from ice blue to mint green. I sorta have three different eye colors then...
seems very rare on March 04, 2020:
I have veryyyy dark blue eyes. So dark they look nearly black, and have been mistaken for very dark brown. However if you look close you find they are indeed blue. I've seen a few with these extremely dark blue eyes, however I can find absolutely no info about them.
dracula on March 02, 2020:
i got pure grey eyes with blue and green mixed
tim on March 01, 2020:
I have green eyes with orange/amber dots inside!
Jordan on February 27, 2020:
I have dark gray/green on the edge, green/gray in the middle (mostly green), and brown on the inside
madison on February 24, 2020:
I have green eyes!!!
Mary on February 16, 2020:
i got like this weird mix of amber, yellow and brown
Ash on February 15, 2020:
Yeah i have blackeye peas
Sofia on February 14, 2020:
My eyes are green
ocean man on February 09, 2020:
my eyes are dark brown but they look black.
Pro on February 08, 2020:
I got blue
Sofia on February 08, 2020:
I have a very green colour eyes with some blue tints in it
Lance on February 08, 2020:
I have eyes that change anywhere from red to green to blue, no one can ever agree on the colour except for them always having a little grey. My science classes have not been pleased when we research eye colour and collect class data.
mia on February 07, 2020:
Amberrrr eyes that turn grey occasionally
........... on February 06, 2020:
I have brown eyes with a ring of Dark forest green around the outside of them.
Wheel on the buss go round n round on February 05, 2020:
I got bright green eyes but with a dark circle close to my black thing in the middle and I'm a male. Lucky me.
7777 on January 30, 2020:
Janie on January 30, 2020:
Aif on January 28, 2020:
I have eyes
Angie on January 19, 2020:
I have navy ring and bluey gray in the inside
Name on January 18, 2020:
I have green eyes
Name on January 18, 2020:
I have black eyes (very dark brown)
Hii on January 10, 2020:
I have black eyes
thomas on January 09, 2020:
i have gray green and blue eyes
jaylo on January 09, 2020:
Mine are green and my dad has green and my mom is blue
Eva on January 07, 2020:
Mine are blue-green ...like the sea!
Jackson on January 05, 2020:
I have hazel eyes :) :) :) :) :)
Mason on January 03, 2020:
My eyes are brown and almost black
sondos on December 27, 2019:
this may seem like a lie but my eyes are green ,blue ,grey and amber
Elizabeth on December 27, 2019:
My eyes are very dark green, almost black.
Lula on December 22, 2019:
I have blue round the edge , then green mainly and amber round my iris
Yeet on December 20, 2019:
I have boring old brown eyes :/
Komadori on December 20, 2019:
My eyes are a dark slate blue-gray with a tiny bit of green right around the iris. I normally just say my eyes are "blue" since gray eyes are really light colored and hazel eyes have brown in them.
Adriana oWo on December 19, 2019:
I have blue-ish gray-ish
Andrea on December 18, 2019:
idk why but a third of my eyes are red, another third is blue and another third is green
I'm confused af
Uros on December 12, 2019:
My eyes are Just black
Anonymous human on December 07, 2019:
My eyes are as close to black as you can get, came here to see how rare it was.
ToBy AN on December 07, 2019:
My eyes are dark blue.B
JessCat23 on December 02, 2019:
I have blue-ish gray-ish eyes. I am common, though, I have a deep blue ring around the eye
Koby on November 27, 2019:
My eyes are somtimes brown /but in the morning and when im tierd they are dark olive green whay?are they hazel green or brown?
Summer on November 26, 2019:
My eyes are Hazel
Is that bad?!
no on November 24, 2019:
i have green eyes
maeve on November 23, 2019:
i have green eyes
willetta on November 19, 2019:
i have blue eyes,my daughter has green eyes.This is a very interesting site,i found it very informative,thank you.
Phantom on November 17, 2019:
I have Spanish hazel (aka amber-y brown-y green)