The Difference Between Green and Hazel Eyes
Are My Eyes Green or Hazel?
There are clear differences between green and hazel eyes, but yet 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. A hazel eye, on the other hand, has more going for it than the average green eye. Hazel eyes are multi-coloured, with a shade of green and a characteristic burst of brown or gold radiating outwards from around the pupil.
Summary of the Differences Between Green and Hazel Eye Colors
One solid hue of green
Multicolored with shades of green, brown and/or gold
Melanin (brown pigment found in the iris of the eye)
When it comes to eye color, the possibilities are endless. There is a huge variety of shades of green eyes. In hazel eyes, the amount of brown varies from one person to another. This ranges from a glint to a strong brown or gold color, depending on the concentration and type of melanin in the iris.
What Is the Difference Between Brown and Hazel Eyes?
The Science Behind Green Eyes
Green and blue pigments are seldom found in animals. However, some animals such as peacocks and snakes have developed a remarkable optical technology to create brilliant shades of blue and green without using 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 makes 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
What Color Is Hazel Eyes?
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.
- Try observing your eyes in daylight. Don't use artificial light as this isn't accurate.
- Stand against a white background and remove objects from your surrounding if they potentially impact your eye color.
- 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).
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.
Are Hazel and Green Eyes Rare?
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. Surprisingly, only about 2% of people have green eyes. People with green eyes are found in Central, Western, and Northern Europe.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 than both of their parents' eyes.
Two factors that influence how an eye color actually appears, include
- the amount of melanin in the eye's iris.
- how the light is scattered in the iris.
Can Your Eye Color Change?
While it's possible a person's eye color can change due to puberty, trauma, pregnancy, and age, it is rare. However, it is impossible for your eyes to change color based on your mood, the 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.
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.