The color of your eyes is something a lot of people notice…or think they notice fairly quickly. It is one of our distinguishing characteristics in most cases. To some, human eye color can seem comparatively limited, but the shades are nigh endless if you have a passion for looking at people. Blue, green, brown, and the others all turn up in the human eye. We match our clothes and styles to them when they’re particular vibrant. All this beauty does leave some questions on precisely what about us determines out eye color. “Genetics” as a catch-all answer isn’t terribly satisfying in this regard. Yes, the eye colors of our parents do play a role, but the truth about eye color is more complicated than a one-word answer can provide. We’re going to take a look into what exactly gives you your eye color at several levels so that you have a deeper appreciation for how nature formed them.
A Genetic Legacy
Yes, we do need to talk about genetics to get a clearer picture of what gives you your eye color. Each color we find in human eyes is the results of various genes in your DNA. These tiny packages of information help to govern everything about our bodies. In almost every case, genes encode for multiple things and most traits have a vast constellation of genes that are responsible for them manifesting. Eye color is interesting in that we have an idea of most of the primary actors involved. Brown eyes are so common because the gene components that encode for them are “dominant”. This means that they are preferentially manifested over other genes. Blue eyes, by contrast, as “recessive” and tend to only manifest when match with another component for blue eyes. Each eye color is the result of an interplay between all these genes and is why you might not have gotten a rarer eye color that one of your parents had while the other didn’t. All these genes help tell you body what to do with pigmentation, though.
We Always Come Back To Melanin
Human pigmentation, both in skin and eyes, is connected to melanin. It is a natural pigment produced by the body and used in numerous ways. Everyone knows that more melanin in the skin results in darker skin. The same is actually true for your eyes. Brown eyes are common among areas where people have darker skin specifically because their body is necessarily producing far more melanin than a fair-skinned person might. As a result, you tend to see eye color vary among ethnic groups. Fair-skinned people often end up with lighter eye colors, including lighter browns, simply due to the lower melanin production. However, genes do influence this. The genes for eye color help your body decide how much melanin is being diverted towards coloring your eyes by default. None of these are truly ironclad rules for how to determine eye color, though. This complex of a process necessarily means there are quirks in gene expression and even outside forces can end up affecting eye color if particular circumstances are met.
Melanin concentrations may determine apparent color, you may be thinking, but how do we get the various shades? Why do some people’s eyes seem to change color? Why do some people have two eye colors? All of this comes back to melanin too. The iris takes whatever color it can get and sometimes it isn’t uniform. Hazel eyes are one of the many beautiful ways the quirks we were talking about can manifest. They are mixes of multiple colors in the iris that lead to the apparent look of shifting colors. Clothing, environment, and level of shadow all play a role in how we see the color, but in truth, a hazel iris has bands of color in it. Similarly, heterochromia takes multiple forms ranging from the most well-known form where both irises are clearly different colors to a form where a single iris is clearly banded with two different colors. Genetic legacies can provide this, but so can damage to the eye from force or diseases of the eye. The root of it always comes back to varying pigmentation levels regardless of what caused the variation.
There’s no doubting that eye color is a truly beautiful thing. From stunning greens to pale grays, they help determine how people see us and sometimes how we see ourselves. These days we can temporarily change our eye color through contacts to get stunning looks natural can’t give us, but there will always be something alluring about someone’s natural eye color. It lets you see the beauty of nature in someone else’s eyes.