Does Eye Color Ever Change? (How & Why)

Posted on August 19, 2019

Eye color is determined by genetics. (Learn More) The eyes can naturally change their color as a response to the iris expanding or contracting in the presence of light or as the iris ages. This results in the eyes gradually becoming darker or lighter in color. (Learn more)

It is possible to get decorative contact lenses to temporarily change eye color, but these require the same procedure (and cost) as a pair of prescription lenses. (Learn More) This is the only way to safely achieve a different appearance for your eyes.

A person’s eye color can be one of the most important points of pride in their physical appearance and presentation. As much as there are entire fashion choices based on “bringing out the eyes,” there is actual science behind how and why eye color can change, which leads some people to wonder if it is possible to intentionally (and permanently) alter the color of their eyes.

While eyes changing color is a natural phenomenon, and some cosmetic accessories allow for temporary changes, there is no safe way to permanently change eye color.

What Is Eye Color?

What we refer to as eye color is actually the presence of melanin, a pigment (the natural coloring agent in organic tissue) in the iris (the colored part of the eyes). The more pigment in the eyes, the darker the color. Green, blue, and gray eyes are the lightest-colored eyes because the iris has the least amount of melanin.

Brown is the most common eye color in the world. Green is the rarest.

The eye color a person is born with depends on the genetic material each parent contributes. Parents’ genes can combine in unexpected ways, and there is no way to predict what eye color a child will have. It is possible for children to have completely different eye colors than those of their parents. But if both parents have brown eyes, it is probable that the child will also have brown eyes.

The color of human eyes starts with three genes, two of which account for the most common of eye colors. The rarer eye colors are the result of the third gene. Darker eye colors tend to dominate, so the genes carrying brown eyes will win out over the genes carrying green eyes, and so on.

Most white people (non-Hispanic Caucasians) are born with blue eyes, which get gradually darker in the first three years after birth.

Can the Eyes Change Color?

In the eye, the iris muscle expands and contracts to control the size of the pupil. It does this to allow more light into the eye in poor lighting conditions. It grows smaller in bright light to avoid damage to the photoreceptors in the eye. When you focus your vision on a near object, the pupil similarly shrinks (much like a lens in a camera).

As the pupil changes its size, the pigments in the iris can spread or come together, which causes changes in eye color.

You might have heard it said that eye colors change with mood, but the truth behind that is the iris is responding to emotional and hormonal changes. This can cause eyes to seem lighter or darker in color as a response to an emotional situation, but this would not be a full change in the color of the eyes.

In as much as 15 percent of the white population (or people who tend to have lighter eye colors), eye color changes with age. People who had deep brown eyes during their youth and adulthood may experience a lightening of their eye pigment as they enter middle age, giving them hazel eyes. Conversely, someone born with hazel eyes might see their irises get darker as they grow older.

Eye colors do slightly change with age, but this should be a gradual transition. If your eye color changes dramatically, even if there is no corresponding difference in vision, you could consult an eye doctor to ensure that there are no medical conditions behind the unexpected change. Fuch’s heterochromic iridiocyclisits, pigmentary glaucoma, or Horner’s syndrome are some issues that can signal their development by a sudden change in eye color.

macro human eye

Can I Change My Eye Color?

There are many people who are unhappy with the color of their eyes, whether for cosmetic reasons or for concerns of body image and self-esteem. Colored contact lenses are a safe way of changing your eye color, but this comes with some caveats.

First and foremost, colored contact lenses require a prescription, and the prescription must be obtained by a licensed doctor after conducting a standard eye exam. This is true even if there is no need for actual corrective vision devices and even if the contacts are only desired for cosmetic purposes. Simply put, if you want colored contact lenses that are safe, you have to go through the process of getting a prescription.

There are three types of colored contact lenses available to consumers, each one based on how much of a change in eye color is desired.

  • Visibility lenses have a minimal tint. They will not show the new color differently if the person’s eye color was light to begin with.
  • Enhancement lenses are semi-opaque. They do not fully change the color of the eye, but (again, depending on the original coloring) can intensify it, making it more distinct.
  • Opaque lenses are fully colored, allowing for a complete change in eye color.

Cosmetic contact lenses should not be used carelessly. If they are not properly maintained (with the same cleaning and care as regular corrective lenses), they can damage the surface of the eye and even lead to blindness. Even if you buy contact lenses solely for decorative purposes, treat them as you would regular contact lenses.

Since some people can experience problems with corrective contact lenses (such as redness, pain, and loss of vision), the same issues can happen with cosmetic lenses. Call your eye doctor if this happens to you.

Importance of Getting Good Contacts

colored contact

It might be possible to get colored contact lenses without a prescription, but wearing lenses without a prescription, and getting them from an unlicensed and potentially unsafe source, raises a number of risks. These include but are not limited to:

  • Scratched cornea.
  • Vision problems.
  • Itchy eyes.

Whatever the reason for getting decorative contact lenses, make sure they require a prescription and are approved by the Food and Drug Administration. This will reduce the likelihood that you will not experience any problems when you use them.

Iris Implant Surgery

Iris implant surgery can permanently alter the color of the eyes. This is not a legitimate medical practice in the United States because there is a high degree of risk for irreversible vision loss.

The surgery was initially developed to repair the iris (or outright replace it) in the event of trauma or illnesses that affect the eye, like cataracts or glaucoma. A side effect of this kind of treatment is a permanent change in eye color, which led to a demand for the procedure for cosmetic reasons.

There are many risks associated with iris implant surgery. The American Academy of Ophthalmology warns that people trying to change their eye color in this way might suffer permanent damage to their eyes, such as inflammation of the eye and swelling of the cornea.

How to Safely Change Your Eye Color

Some urban legends hold that honey and tepid water can change a person’s eye color, but there is no scientific evidence to suggest this is even remotely possible. Despite what some websites say, both honey and tap water are not sterile, and applying them to the eyes could cause an infection.

If you want to change your eye color, decorative contact lenses are the way to go, and the way to get them is via a prescription from a licensed optician. Take care of the lenses, clean them regularly, and get yearly checks for your vision, and you can safely enjoy your new eye color.

References

What Color of Clothing Makes Eyes Look More Enhanced? (December 2018). Our Everyday Life.

Why Are Brown Eyes Most Common? (April 2017). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

How the Human Eye Works. (May 2016). Live Science.

How Can Eye Color Change With Mood? (July 2017). Heathfully.

The Claim: Eye Color Can Change as We Age. (October 2005). The New York Times.

Newborn Eye Color. Healthy Children.

Is It Possible to Change Your Eye Color? (April 2018). Medical News Today.

Are Colored Contact Lenses for Halloween Safe? (September 2018). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Devastating Complication of Cosmetic Iris Implants. (August 2017.) Indian Journal of Ophthalmology.

Age-Related Eye Diseases. National Eye Institute.

Cosmetic Iris Implants Carry Risk of Permanent Eye Damage, Vision Loss. (October 2014). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

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