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The Difference Between Green and Hazel Eyes

Updated on June 13, 2018
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Edmund is a biostatistician with over 10 years of experience in clinical research. He loves to study human-inherited traits.

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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

 
Green
Hazel
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)
Less melanin
More melanin
The brown color in hazel eyes is closer to the pupil and is surrounded by green towards the outside of the iris.
The more subtle the brown (in hazel), the harder it is to tell the colors apart.
The more subtle the brown (in hazel), the harder it is to tell the colors apart. | Source

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.

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 scatters 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

Rayleigh Scattering also explains why the sky is blue
Rayleigh Scattering also explains why the sky is blue

What Color are 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. Hazel eyes basically have 2 distinct colors when viewed under normal lighting—green with brown surrounding the pupil. 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

To see your normal eye color, try observing your eyes in daylight. Put on something white 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 or a camera is always very handy.

On the other hand, if you want to see how susceptible your eye color is to external factors, try observing it in a dimly lit room, in different color lighting, with different colors of makeup. Study the impact of wearing a bright green or brown dress, or whenever you dye your hair a different color.

Heterochromia and Hazel Eyes

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 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.

The English actress Alice Eve has one blue and one green eye
The English actress Alice Eve has one blue and one green eye | Source

Complete heterochromia is more common in certain breeds of cats and dogs.

Siberian husky with complete heterochromia
Siberian husky with complete heterochromia | Source

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.

Sectoral heterochromia is probably the most common type of heterochromia
Sectoral heterochromia is probably the most common type of heterochromia | Source

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.

An example of central heterochromia
An example of central heterochromia | Source

Makeup Tips for Hazel and Green Eyes

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