The Science Behind Eye Color and Colored Contacts

  • 7 min reading time

Eye color is one of the most defining characteristics of a person’s appearance. It is determined by the amount and type of pigment, called melanin, present in the iris, which is the colored part of the eye. The iris also has a unique pattern of folds and furrows that helps to control the amount of light that enters the eye. In this article, we will explore the science behind eye color and how colored contacts can change the appearance of the iris.
The Genetics of Eye Color

Eye color is a hereditary trait that is determined by multiple genes, with the most important being the OCA2 gene. This gene produces a protein called P protein, which is involved in the production and distribution of melanin. The more P protein a person produces, the more melanin they will have in their iris, resulting in darker eye color.

Melanin comes in two forms: eumelanin and pheomelanin. Eumelanin is brown or black, while pheomelanin is red or yellow. The amount and type of melanin present in the iris determine the range of eye colors, which can vary from light blue to dark brown.

Other genes also play a role in determining eye color. The HERC2 gene, for example, regulates the activity of the OCA2 gene, while the TYR gene produces an enzyme that converts the amino acid tyrosine into melanin. Additionally, variations in other genes, such as SLC24A4 and SLC45A2, have been associated with differences in eye color between populations.

Eye Color and Health

Aside from its cosmetic value, eye color can also provide insight into a person’s health. For example, people with lighter eye colors are more susceptible to certain eye conditions, such as age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. Lighter eyes also have less melanin, which means they are more sensitive to light and may be at higher risk for photokeratitis, a condition caused by overexposure to UV radiation.

On the other hand, darker eyes have more melanin, which provides greater protection against UV radiation and can help to reduce the risk of certain eye diseases. However, people with darker eyes may be more susceptible to pigment dispersion syndrome, a condition in which pigment from the iris accumulates in the trabecular meshwork, leading to increased intraocular pressure and the development of glaucoma.

Colored Contacts

Colored contact lenses are a popular way to change the appearance of the iris. They can be used to enhance the natural color of the eyes or to completely change the color. Colored contacts work by covering the natural iris with a colored layer, which alters the way that light enters and reflects from the eye.

There are two types of colored contact lenses: enhancement tints and opaque tints. Opaque tints lenses are designed to completely change the color of the eyes, while enhancement tints lenses are meant to enhance the natural color of the eyes.

Opaque tints colored contacts are typically made from a soft, flexible material called hydrogel or silicone hydrogel. They are available in a wide range of colors, including blue, green, violet, red, white, gray, and brown. Opaque lenses are designed to completely cover the natural iris, which means that they can be worn by people with any eye color.

Enhancement tints colored contacts, on the other hand, are designed to enhance the natural color of the eyes. They are translucent and contain a subtle tint that is designed to make the natural color of the iris appear more vibrant. Enhancement tints lenses are also available in a few colors, such as blue, green, violet, honey and hazel, and are only suitable for people with light-colored eyes.

Safety Considerations

While colored contacts can be a fun and easy way to change your appearance, it is important to use them safely and responsibly. Improper use of colored contacts can lead to serious eye problems, including infections, corneal ulcers, and even vision loss. To reduce the risk of these complications, it is important to follow these safety guidelines:

Get a prescription:

Colored contacts are medical devices that require a prescription from an eye doctor. An eye doctor will perform a comprehensive eye exam to determine the proper fit and prescription for your lenses.

Buy from a reputable source:

Purchase colored contacts from a reputable source, such as an eye doctor's office or a reputatable online retailer. Do not buy from street vendors or beauty supply stores.

Follow care instructions:

Colored contacts require proper cleaning and disinfecting to prevent eye infections. Follow the care instructions provided by your eye doctor or contact lens manufacturer.

Do not share:

Do not share colored contacts with others. Sharing contacts can spread bacteria and lead to eye infections.

Do not sleep in contacts:

Sleeping in contacts increases the risk of eye infections and other complications. Follow the recommended wearing schedule provided by your eye doctor.


In conclusion, eye color is determined by a complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors. Colored contacts can be a fun way to change your appearance, but they should be used safely and responsibly. If you are considering colored contacts, consult your eye doctor to determine the best option for your eyes and to learn how to use them safely.

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