All about eye color

From the famous lines of beloved songs to the stories of ancient legends, eye color has captivated audiences throughout time.

The origins and genetic makeup associated with eye color are much more complex than a simple collection of aesthetic traits, however. Genes and pigment concentrations are two important factors in determining eye color. Some eye colors are more rare than others and can be linked to genetics or family origins and heritage.

The two primary genes that influence the color of the eye, primarily brown and blue eyes, are OCA2 and HERC2. Additional genes influence other eye colors and specific variations, including green or hazel eyes and gold rings. The scale of eye color from most to least common is brown, blue, hazel, green, and silver.

Concentrations of the pigment melanin in the iris of the eye is the primary determinant of eye color. Higher amounts of melanin lead to darker colors while lower amounts result in lighter eye colors. The pigment lipochrome also plays a role in determining eye color, specifically green eyes.

Eye color also can change due to factors like pupil size, emotions, and age. However, if these changes are drastic or only occur in one eye this may indicate a medical condition and you should discuss symptoms with a doctor.

Main colors of the eye


  • Most common eye color
  • Result of having a large amount of melanin in the iris


  • Appear to switch from brown to green or a combination of the two.
  • Often have a brown ring at outer edge


  • Least common eye color
  • Linked to norther and central European descent
  • Rare in men


  • Linked to European descent
  • Eye color of most newborn babies

Other colors


  • Linked to eastern European descent
  • Result of having very little  melanin in the iris
  • Very rare.

More colors:

Some eyes are not easily classified as one of the main colors.

What determines eye color?

Melanin. The more you have, the darker your eyes.

Still curious?

Interested in some fascinating facts behind blue (green, or brown) eyes?

Visit the UPMC Vision Institute website to learn more about the latest breakthroughs in the field of optometry and the different eye conditions we treat. Call 1-800-446-3797 to schedule an appointment today.

Editor's Note: This infographic was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

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About UPMC Vision Institute

The UPMC Vision Institute is a national leader in the treatment of eye diseases and disorders. We seek to improve and restore your vision to help your quality of life, diagnosing and treating a wide range of conditions in both children and adults. Our treatments include both surgical and nonsurgical options. We also offer routine eye screenings and have full-scale optical shops. Find an eye expert close to you.