Edmund is a biostatistician with over 10 years of experience in clinical research. He loves to study human-inherited traits.
The Differences Between Hazel and Green Eyes
There are clear differences between green and hazel eyes, but it is easy to mistake one for the other. A green eye usually has a solid green hue with more or less a single color throughout the iris. Hazel eyes are multi-colored, with a shade of green and a characteristic burst of brown or gold radiating outwards from around the pupil.
Here's a sneak peek of what this article covers:
- The science behind green eyes
- How to determine if you have hazel or green eyes
- The role genes play in determining eye color and if that color can ever change
- The rarest colors
- What a limbal ring is
- Any known health risks in people with lighter-colored eyes
- What heterochromia is
- Celebrities with green and hazel eyes
One solid hue of green
Multicolored with shades of green, brown and/or gold
Melanin (brown pigment found in the iris of the eye)
The Science Behind Green Eyes
Green and blue pigments are seldom found in animals. However, some animals such as peacocks and snakes have brilliant shades of blue and green without having even a single speck of a green or blue pigment. These animals have specialized microscopic structures that scatter light in a way that makes it appear green or blue to humans. This phenomenon that produces structural colors is known as Rayleigh Scattering—it is also used to explain why the sky is blue. The human eye also makes use of such a hack to make green and blue eye colors.
Even though sunlight appears white to the naked eye, it consists of a mixture of several colors. Inside the iris of the human eyeball, molecules of the stroma have a special structure that scatters light in a way that makes the iris appear blue. The main reason for this is that blue light has a shorter wavelength than most of the other components of white light. Hence, it is scattered more as it interacts with molecules of the stroma.
The color in blue eyes is not entirely structural. People with green eyes have a bit more melanin than people with blue eyes. The slightly higher melanin concentration combines with the structural blue color to make the iris look green. In brown eyes, there is more than enough melanin to completely mask the blue color. So would all be blue-eyed if everyone had a relatively low amount of melanin.
- Scattering of light in the stroma + some melanin = green color
- Varying amounts of melanin = different shades of green
Are My Eyes Green or Hazel?
The effect of Rayleigh scattering coupled with a higher melanin concentration around the pupils gives hazel eyes their characteristic brown-to-green color. All hazel eyes basically have some combination of two distinct colors when viewed under normal lighting—brown/gold and green coloring. The magnitude of the brown color varies from person to person and is directly proportional to the amount of melanin in the iris. Hazel eyes may have a yellowish-brown, dark brown, or amber-brown surrounding the pupil.
Some folks with hazel eyes observe shifts in their eye color between hazel and green or brown. This is usually caused by a change in environmental factors such as the amount of lighting in a room and the color of surrounding objects. This shift in eye color also depends on the ratio of brown-to-green in the iris. When green is more pronounced than brown, hazel eyes tend to be perceived as green in green lighting or in the presence of a bright green object in the surrounding—like a bright green party gown. On the other hand, when brown is more pronounced than green then hazel eyes may appear brown in the presence of a brown object in the surrounding.
This is why we tend to easily mistake hazel eyes for green or brown eyes. As we have seen above, there is no physical change in the eye accompanying this color shift. What actually changes is the way we perceived the eye color.
How to Observe Your Eye Color
Here are some tips on how to discover your true color.
- Use natural light: Try observing your eyes in daylight. Don't use artificial light as this isn't accurate.
- Stand against a white background: Stand against a white background and remove objects from your surrounding if they potentially impact your eye color.
- Use a mirror: If there is no friend around to help you with this task, a small mirror can be handy (a mirror is actually more accurate than a phone, which can distort the color).
- Wear a white shirt: Your shirt color may cause your eyes to appear a different color than they actually are. It's best to wear a white shirt to eliminate this possibility.
Hazel eyes will have a mixture of green, brown, and gold colors, often with a burst of one color close to the pupil, while the outer part of the iris is a different color.
How Is Your Eye Color Determined?
While genetics play an important role in determining your eye color, it's been recently found that up to 16 genes play a role, with the two dominant ones being HERC2 and OCA2. While the OCA2 produces melanin, HERC2 is in charge of turning this gene off and on when necessary. With higher OCA2 activity, your eyes will be darker.
While previously thought to be impossible, a child's eye color may be different from that of either parent.
Two factors that influence how an eye color actually appears:
- the amount of melanin in the eye's iris
- how the light is scattered in the iris
As mentioned above, your eye color is partly determined by how much brown-colored pigment, called melanin, is contained in cells in the iris.”This means that the possibilities are endless. For example, an individual with less melanin in their iris will have a lighter eye color (blue or green, for example) than a person with a greater concentration of melanin, who will likely have brown eyes.
Can Your Eye Color Change?
It is possible that your eye color may change due to puberty, trauma, pregnancy, and age, but this is a rare occurrence. In addition, it is impossible for your eyes to change color based on your mood, temperature, time of day, etc. Your mood may change your pupil size, but it's not actually changing the color. If you notice your eyes do change, this is almost always due to lighting.
For individuals looking for a change, the best way to do this is via colored contact lenses. While this is only temporary, it can be a fun way to play around with different looks.
What Is the Rarest Eye Color?
The rarest eye colors are amber, violet/red, and gray. The next rarest are green eyes, which occur in 2% of the population. People with green eyes are typically found in Central, Western, and Northern Europe.
However, hazel is definitely one of the rarer colors when it comes to a person's eyes. According to World Atlas, approximately 5% of the world has hazel eyes, making it less common than brown and blue eyes.
What Is the Different Colored Ring Around My Pupil?
That would be a limbal ring, which is a line that separates the colored part of the eye from the white part. They actually fade with age and make a person's eyes more attractive, according to Psychology Today.
"It's completely unconscious, the way we all judge others' limbal rings. In the 20 milliseconds or so it takes to assess a person's attractiveness, you're factoring in the size and shade of the limbal rings. The bigger and blacker they are, the more attractive the eyes. People with the prettiest eyes have the most prominent limbal rings."
Most people are born with a limbal ring, but it is more prominent in people with lighter-colored eyes.
Are People With Hazel or Green Eyes More at Risk for Disease or Problems?
According to the American Cancer Society, people with light-colored eyes are somewhat more likely to develop uveal melanoma, which is a cancer of the eye involving the iris, ciliary body, or choroid (collectively referred to as the uvea).
In addition, it has been found that "photophobia—a term used to describe light sensitivity—typically affects people with light eyes because they have less pigmentation in layers of the eye than those with darker eyes. Because of this, they are unable to block out the effects of harsh lights like sunlight and fluorescent lights."
If you experience this, avoid harsh or bright lights and wear UV-blocking sunglasses or a wide-brimmed hat when outdoors. If this sensitivity is interfering with your daily activities or causing unusual pain, make an appointment with an eye doctor.
What Is Heterochromia?
Heterochromia is a rare condition characterized by abnormal pigmentation, commonly observed in the iris of the eye. Most cases are genetic, meaning that people with the condition are often born with it. However, some people acquire it later in life. When this happens, it can be an indication of an underlying health issue, especially when it involves a sudden change in eye color. Trauma to the eyeball is a major cause of acquired heterochromia. However, most cases of heterochromia are completely harmless. There are three main types:
- Complete Heterochromia: This is when the color of one eye is completely different from that of the other. Complete heterochromia is more common in certain breeds of cats and dogs.
- Sectoral Heterochromia: This is when a section of the iris has a splash of another color (usually brown) than the rest of the iris. This is due to an uneven distribution of the melanin in the iris.
- Central Heterochromia: This type of heterochromia manifests similarly to hazel eyes. It usually involves two distinct colors surrounding the pupil, one color closer to the pupil and the other color further away from the pupil.
Celebrities With Green or Hazel Eyes
- Lance Bass from Backstreet Boys
- Jessica Chastain
- Gigi Hadid
- Jon Hamm
- Kate Hudson
- Scarlett Johansson
- Lindsey Lohan
- Kate Middleton
- Elizabeth Olsen
- Paul Rudd
- Emma Stone
- Channing Tatum
- Charlize Theron
- Tyra Banks: Her eyes can sometimes appear green in some photos while in others they may look yellow/brown.
- Kelly Clarkson: She even has a song about it.
- Penelope Cruz
- Lady Gaga
- Katie Holmes
- Angelina Jolie
- Mila Kunis
- Jason Statham
- Rebel Wilson
Eye Colors Are Fascinating
I hope you learned something from this article! Our eyes are so amazing and interesting. Every eye color is beautiful and unique.
Blue Sky. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/atmos/blusky.html
ASTROLab du parc national du Mont-Mégantic. (n.d.). The White Light Spectrum: Retrieved from http://astro-canada.ca/la_decouverte_du_spectre_de_la_lumiere_blanche-the_white_light_spectrum-eng
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (2014, September 14). Infographic: Colors of the Eye. Retrieved from https://share.upmc.com/2014/09/infographic-colors-eye/
Kasprak, Alex. “Do People with Blue Eyes Have the Highest Alcohol Tolerance?” (2019, February 1). Retrieved from www.snopes.com/fact-check/blue-eyes-alcohol-tolerance/
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Ruthie on August 18, 2020:
My mother's eyes were aquamarine blue, my father's, brown. Mine were hazel, brown and green. About 15 years ago I was in the shower (high window above), looked in mirror to remove eyelash from eye, and saw pure Nile green looking back at me! It was like looking at a stranger. They've stayed that way, and I'm not sorry, I think they're neat. I had light brown hair, then blonde :-) and now pure white. Husband had blue eyes, we had one with blue eyes, one with brown.
Monica on August 16, 2020:
How do you differenciate hazel eyes from Central Heterochromia?
Caitlin on August 13, 2020:
Mum has hazel eyes that shift from brown to green. Tbh I'm so jealous of that!
Brianna on July 07, 2020:
I have green eyes ,my mother Asian dark brown eyes and my dad greek blue eyes
Ava on May 22, 2020:
Both of my parents and my younger brother have brown eyes, but I have green eyes.
nostxlgia on May 12, 2020:
I have hazel but you can see some 'gold specs' in the sunlight.
Akito on May 02, 2020:
I have green eyes and sectoral heterochromia
I guess I’m special
Kvarka on April 16, 2020:
I have definitely a hasel eyes. Looks like grey-green, but if you look clouser, it's blue with brown in the middle.
Asian De alba on March 14, 2020:
I have dark purple eyes on one eye. And light pink eye on other eye
Mary Draper on February 20, 2020:
My mother has brown eyes, my father blue. Out of six children, four have blue, two have green.
Jazmin on January 21, 2020:
Hey what Happens to hazel depending on my mood and day
Ho0mAN on January 05, 2020:
So I do have green eye ...
Very dark but not to dark
Enough where you could see they are green in almost any lighting
Amy on December 29, 2019:
My eyes green..with alot of yellow my dad's eyes were light green almost yellow. My eyes very unusual...almost yellow. Never seen this eye color b4.
MR.D3MON (aka :) which I just have a different name this time) on December 25, 2019:
I have amber eyes but look just a little yellow-green (more yellow)what about the differences between hazel and amber?
Unknown on December 17, 2019:
I have green eyes with a little amber hazel in them
Anelys on October 29, 2019:
My eyes are hazel color but I’m the only one in my family with light eyes. Everyone else has brown eyes? I thought the color of the eyes may be hereditary?
XULU on October 21, 2019:
My eyes are very green but with a blue ring around.
My skin is white and my hair is absolute black, charcoal.
lau on September 30, 2019:
@brian that's called a limbal ring
Bryan on September 23, 2019:
I have dark green eyes but I also have a charcoal/grey thicc ring at the outside of my eyes and I want to know why.
General Void on September 13, 2019:
my friends have said my eyes look blue but they are normally green/brown so im guessing i have hazel eyes! I am looking for, also a resource that tells me why there is a charcoal like ring around the edge. when I look at my eyes under the right light, they are blue/grey, i notice a dark grey ring around the outside of my iris and im wondering what that is...
Liv on August 30, 2019:
my eyes keep shifting from bright amber to a shade of brown.
Rebecca on July 06, 2019:
I have odd khaki green coloured eyes. They are solid in colour and no flecks so not hazel.
Simao Gonçalves on July 02, 2019:
Mine is strange I have green eye with blue around the pupil
Aidan on June 28, 2019:
My eyes are darker than hazel but they look more green and cadet blue and grey and spring green too and bit of indigo blue