Brown eyes: All about brown eye color
Brown eyes are more common worldwide than any other eye color. But the prevalence of brown eyes varies significantly with geography.
Most people living in Africa and Asia have dark brown eyes. Dark brown eye color also is very common in the Middle East. But in Europe, both the prevalence and shade of brown eyes vary significantly from region to region.
In the United States, an estimated 41 percent of the population has brown eyes — including dark brown eyes, light brown eyes and honey brown eyes. If you include hazel eyes (sometimes called hazel brown eyes), the prevalence is even higher.
But the high prevalence doesn't mean all brown eyes look the same. There is plenty of variation in the appearance from person to person, and there are even health advantages to having brown eyes (more about that later).
What causes brown eyes?
Even though there are different eye colors, including less common blue eyes and green eyes, there is only one type of eye color pigment. The amount of this pigment (called melanin) present in the iris of your eye determines the color of your eyes.
Eyes with very little melanin in the iris are blue. Eyes with a bit more melanin are green, hazel or light brown. And those with a high concentration of melanin are medium or dark brown.
Eye color is an inherited trait. But predicting eye color from your family tree is more difficult than you might expect. In fact, there is evidence that up to 16 genes can influence eye color.
So it's very possible for children in the same family to have different eye colors, and eyes that are not the same color as those of their parents. Due to complex variations and interactions of genes, it's hard to say with certainty what color eyes a child might end up with.
Also, the eyes of many Caucasian babies contain very little melanin at birth and will appear blue the first few months of life. But within 12 to 18 months, more melanin can accumulate in the iris, causing eye color to change from blue to green, hazel or brown.
Benefits of brown eyes
If you have brown eyes, you'll be happy to know that researchers have found the higher melanin content in your eyes is associated with a number of health benefits.
People with brown eyes may be less vulnerable to certain diseases. For example, people with brown eyes appear less likely to develop age-related macular degeneration than people with light-colored eyes.
Also, people with brown eyes have a lower risk of type 1 diabetes and melanoma of the eye, compared with individuals with light blue eyes.
And research at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London suggests individuals with blue eyes have a higher risk of hearing problems caused by environmental noise pollution compared with coworkers with brown eyes. The study authors felt melanin pigment may help protect nerves in the brain from noise-induced damage.
But it's not all good news for people with brown eyes.
Research at the University of Pittsburgh found that women with dark-colored eyes seemed to experience more pain when giving birth compared with mothers with light-colored eyes. The women with light-colored eyes also had less anxiety, depression, negative thoughts and sleep disturbances than the women with brown eyes.
Also, researchers in Australia found that people with dark brown irises were more likely to develop cataracts than people with lighter-colored eyes. So be sure to wear sunglasses that protect your eyes from UV radiation outdoors if you have brown eyes. (In most cases, polarized sunglasses offer the greatest comfort in bright sunlight.)
Brown eyes: More trustworthy?
Did you know that having brown eyes may make you appear more trustworthy?
In research performed in the Czech Republic, university students were asked to look at photographs of 80 fellow students (40 males and 40 females, ages 19 to 26 years). Participants in the study were asked to rate the photographed students for trustworthiness on a 10-point scale.
The students who were photographed were told to assume neutral, non-smiling expressions and not to wear any makeup or jewelry. All photos were cropped so that the eyes were always horizontally at the same height with a standard length of neck visible. Only photos of individuals with blue eyes or brown eyes were used in the study. Photos of students with hazel or green eyes were excluded.
Results of the study revealed that people with brown eyes were perceived as significantly more trustworthy than those with blue eyes.
But it's a little more complicated than that.
The researchers found a relationship existed between eye color and face shape, and that the shape of a person's face plays a key role in the perception of trustworthiness.
Brown-eyed faces tended to have a rounder and broader chin, a broader mouth with upward-pointing corners, relatively bigger eyes, and eyebrows closer to each other. In contrast, blue-eyed faces were characterized by a more angular and prominent lower face, a longer chin, a narrower mouth with downward-pointing corners, relatively smaller eyes and rather distant eyebrows.
"Brown-eyed individuals tend to be perceived as more trustworthy than blue-eyed ones," explained the study authors. "But it is not brown eyes that cause this perception. It is the facial morphology linked to brown eyes."
Eye color options
Despite the advantages associated with brown eyes, if you'd like to try other eye colors, you can.
There is a wide variety of color contacts for brown eyes — and these appearance-changing colored lenses are available even if you don't need correction for nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism. There are even colored contacts for brown eyes that can change the color of your eyes to light blue if that's what you desire.
Not ready for contacts but want to know other ways to make your brown eyes "pop?"
If you wear eyeglasses, ask your optician to show you how different frame colors can complement and enhance your brown eyes. Also, choose lenses with anti-reflective coating to help showcase your eye color. AR coating eliminates annoying reflections in your eyeglasses, allowing others to see the beauty and expressiveness of your brown eyes.
Also, spend time with a professional aesthetician to discover the best eyeshadow and makeup for brown eyes. The right choices for you will depend on a number of factors — including your hair color and skin tone as well as the depth of the pigment in your brown eyes.
SEE RELATED: Eye color change surgery
Have routine eye exams
To keep your beautiful brown eyes healthy and seeing clearly, have routine eye exams at least every two years. Click here to find an eye doctor near you.
READ MORE: Amber eyes: Rare and striking
Eye color distribution percentages. StatisticBrain.com. (Data attributed to American Academy of Ophthalmology.) Accessed November 2016.
Eye color explained: 5 surprising things your baby blues say about your health and personality. Medical Daily. November 2014.
Eye color linked to pain tolerance in pilot study at Pitt. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. July 2014.
Can't hold a drink or cope with pain? Blame the colour of your eyes. DailyMail.com. June 2014.
People with brown eyes appear more trustworthy, but that's not the whole story. Scientific American(Science Sushi blog). January 2013.
Trustworthy-looking face meets brown eyes. PLOS One. January 2013.
Iris color and cataract: the Blue Mountains Eye Study. American Journal of Ophthalmology. August 2000.
Page published in February 2019
Page updated in March 2021