Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Green Eye Colour: a rare human eye colour

Rare green eyes in humans

There are a lot of different eye colours in humans but some are more rare than others. Just look around you and take a good look at peoples eye colour. There is a high chance you will notice a lot of people with brown eyes. Brown eyes are by far most common in humans. In some countries, the brown eye colour is the only colour there is.
In other countries however, you would find a lot of diversity. Green, blue, hazel, grey and even violet eyes do exist as well. 

Green eyes in the Middle East

Brown is the most common eye colour

In the US only 1 out of 6 people have a light (blue) eye colour. The brown eye colour is in the US the most prevalent. No surprise, because brown is also the dominant colour. In other countries, especially in northern Europe, brown is less common. Estonia for example is a very light eyed country with almost 98% having the blue eyes.

Africa is very brown

The further you go to the south, the more chance there is that you will find a person with brown eyes. In southern europe for instance, there is on average a change of 80% you will find a brown eyed person. Lighter eyes are also in southern Europe (Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece) less common. Further south, going to Africa, light eyes are almost disappeared.

Light eyes in Scandinavia

Scandinavians tend to have a very light appearence. Light eyes are definitely the standard in these northern countries. Sweden, Norway and Denmark all have high percentages of light eyed people. Also Finland and Iceland are extremely light with almost 90% of them having light eyes (green, grey and blue). Other ''northern'' countries like The Netherlands, Scotland and Germany have light eyed peoples too. In The Netherlands approximately 80% of the inhabitants have green or blue eyes. Germany (especially the northern part of the country) follows with almost 70% having lighter eye colours.

Green eyes are rare

Within the ''light'' eyed population, the green eyes are outnumbered by the blue eyes. Green eyes are dominant over the blue eye colour but there are only very few people that carry the genes responsible for green eyes. Only 1-2% of the entire human population have green eyes.

Shades of green eyes

Green eyes can look very different. They can be very dark, almost brown. Sometimes they are very light: almost neon. It all depends on the amount and type of melanin inside the iris. If you have a lot of melanin, your eyes look darker and if you have only a tiny bit, your eyes tend to look very light (bright).

The light green eyes are most common in Iceland, The Netherlands, Scotland, Ireland, Estonia and Scandinavia. Dark green eyes can be find all over Europe, the US and even in Pakistan. 

Dark green eyes
Light green eyes

Green eyes and red hair

Scientist suspects there is a relation between red hair and the green eye colour. It looks like there is a high correlation between those two human traits. Having the red hair colour is also very unique (and recessive). Only 1 - 2 % of the entire human population have naturally red hair. Of course, not only red hair coexist with green eyes. Also blondes and darker hair colours tend to have green eyes (or the other way around). 

Green eyes and gender

Normally, you would expect a 50/50 gender variation between the eye colours (blue, brown), but scientist found a positive correlation between being a woman and having the green eye colour. Why green eyes are more found in women is still unknown and it is not certain a gender differentiation actually exist. The findings could be biased somehow. 

red hair, green eyes and being male: the odds are very low

Hazel eyes are Green eyes?

Some people confuse hazel eyes with green eyes. Hazel eyes are also very rare but are different than green eyes. First of all, hazel eyes have more melanin. They look more brownish and are overall a bit darker, sometimes with a golden teint. People with hazel eyes often notice a considerable change in their eye colour, especially when a lot of light reflect on their eyes. Secondly, some green eyes have a lot of yellow pigment in them. Hazel eyes share this yellow pigmentation hence the confusion.

Eyes with a Green-Hazel colour

Where do green eyes come from?

Green eyes can be found anywhere but you will find them most of the time in Europe. Some people believe green eyes came to existence due to a mixture of blue and brown eyes. This idea became popular because a lot of green eyes can be found in areas where brown and blue eyes came together. When we look at the map, the highest percentage of green eyes can be found in Scotland. Ireland also has (relative) a lot of green eyed inhabitants. 

Green eyes have lipochrome. This lipochrome (also known as feomelanin) is a yellowish pigment. People with green eyes and especially those with amber coloured eyes have a lot of this yellow lipochrome inside their irises. Those with blue, brown or grey eyes usually don't have any lipochrome. When you have a lot of lipochrome inside your iris, you might have the amber eye colour. When you only have a small portion of this yellow pigment, your eyes might look a bit more green/blue-ish.

The combination of the yellow pigment and low amount of melanin gives rise to light green eyes. When you have a moderate amount of melanin but also lipochrome, your eyes probably look darker green. When you only have a low amount of melanin (and no lipochrome), your eyes look blue.

Light Green Eyes: (very) low amount of melanin + moderate amount of lipochrome

Blueish Green Eyes: (very) low amount of melanin + low amount of lipochrome

Yellowish Green Eyes: (very) low amount of melanin + (very) high amount of lipochrome

Dark Green Eyes: moderate amount of melanin + moderate amount of lipochrome

Brownish Green Eyes: high amount of melanin + moderate amount of lipochrome

Blue Eyes: (very) low amount of melanin (no lipochrome)
Brown Eyes: (very) high amount of melanin (no lipochrome)
Amber Eyes: (very) low melanin + very high amount of lipochrome
Grey Eyes: low amount of melanin (no lipochrome)

Heterochromia Iridum

Some people have a truly unique thing going on with their eyes: they have more than one colour! When one eye has a different colour than the other; it is called heterochromia iridum. When only a small portion of the iris has a different colour, it is called: partial heterochromia. 

complete heterochromia: blue and green
Read for more information (Dutch): Green Eyes: a rare trait in humans


  1. Very interesting article. I am glad you mentioned of an additional pigment, lipochrome, in green and amber eyes. Most articles just assume that green eyes are caused by an intermediate amount melanin. What exactly is lipochrome? Does it have other names?

    One additional point you may want to clarify: From what I've read elsewhere, for blue versus brown eyes, it's not just the amount of melanin but rather the location. Both blue and brown eyes have melanin in the back of the iris, but only brown eyes have melanin in the stroma, the front layer of the iris. That the location of melanin, and not just the amount, affects eye color makes intuitive sense, as there are people with dark blue eyes (high amount in back of iris, none in the stroma), and others with light brown eyes (moderate amounts in both back of iris and in stroma).

    Thank you for your article. What source did you read that discussed the lipochrome - I can find very few articles mentioning it.

  2. Do the people trying to track the little blond girl found in Greece with the gypsy couple know of the low incidence and this article about green eyes. Most articles about the little girl say they are green. some say blue. Could you let them know of this research in this article because it may narrow the search for the true birth mother and hopefully father of this child. thank you very much, please act on it, you could solve the mystery of this missing child.

  3. My family has a strange variety of eye colors. My father has brown eyes, while my mother has silver eyes with a hint of blue. My sister has gorgeous eyes, they are silver with a hint of green. I have hazel eyes, they are gold near the pupil and are light brown towards the edges of the or is. They are ringed in a dark green and have brown flecks. I'm not really sure how this happened, but its very interesting.

  4. Hi, wanted to share my eye colour, may be you will find it interesting. I actually never met anyone with similar shade and my eye doctor says its very rare and unique

    1. Hi, Olessya! They are very unique. My dad actually has the exact same type but the inside starburst is a bit smaller than yours. The eye doctor called it Blue-Honey eyes, but everyone calls then something different. Regardless --they are super pretty! :)

    2. That's because you descend from a reptile.

    3. wow Olessya your eyes are gorgeous my eyes look sorta like that but they are more of a silvery blue with white streaks

  5. Wow! Your eyes are beautiful, @ Olessya

  6. I have Hazel/Green eyes and my mum has greyish blue and my dad has very dark brown... WHY!?

    1. Sometimes eye colour can skip one generation. Perhaps your grandparents had/have green/hazel eyes?

  7. I am the youngest of 8, both parents were irish, black hair and blue eyes..all 7 siblings are the same..then came me, dark auburn hair and light green eyes...I guess I am a rarity!

  8. I am a male with red hair green eyes freckles and pale skin. my parents had Brown and blue eyes.and dark hair.were the f.ck did I come from.?lol

  9. I kind of have a mix of bluey-greyish-greeny eyes, with a darker ring aroung the outside.

  10. Interesting Article. I've been wondering about my eyes ever since I was a kid as no-one could decide whether they were green or blue. Now it makes sense!

  11. i think my eyes are kinda weird, because they change their color all the time, i'd say they change as the weather changes. some days they are blue-grey, other days are blue-green, while sometimes they shift to grey with yellow shades. my parents have green eyes, and blue eyes.

  12. My eyes are kind of the same they change colour's to, they go from a light ish green/gray to green/blue. witch makes sense becuase my mom had blue eyes and my dad has the same eyes as me witch change colour.But i really like my eyes :)

  13. also my eyes change if i cry or what my emotions are.

  14. People tell me I have the greenist eyes there ever seen.sometimes I carnt belive how green they are.I all so have red hair.now turning snow white.

    1. Green eyes are indeed very special. The combination of red hair and light/bright green eyes is probably one of the most rare phenotype we know.

  15. Ok, can you tell me which eye colour do I have? it' neither blue-ish green, nor yellow-ish. so what is it then? http://s11.postimg.org/vhqzbv09f/20140401_155401.jpg

  16. My eye color is BLACK!!
    Is it rare???

  17. my eyes are a silverish blue with a yellow splash in the middle with white streaks through at random spots is that rare?

  18. I think my eyes are green. But I have a weird dark ring around the edge of the color.

  19. They say it' s rare for people of African descent to have green eyes,(Black, Irish and Native American) but I do. Most people assume I wear contacts, then some know they are real. Two of my kids have my green eyes and my youngest daughter has blue eyes.