Can hazel eyes turn green?

Hazel eyes are one of the most interesting and unique eye colors. They are characterized by an intricate blending of shades of brown, green, and sometimes gold. This results in eyes that seem to shift colors depending on factors like lighting conditions and clothing colors. Many people with hazel eyes wonder – can my hazel eyes turn green? The short answer is yes, hazel eyes can appear to shift toward green under certain circumstances. However, true eye color change is not actually occurring. This article will explore how and why hazel eyes can look greener at times through an in-depth examination of the structure, genetics, and optical properties of hazel eyes.

The Composition and Structure of Hazel Eyes

To understand how hazel eyes can appear green, it is important to first look at what makes up the hazel eye color. Hazel eyes contain a combination of the pigments melanin and lipochromes:

– Melanin is a brown pigment that also determines brown and black eye colors. Hazel eyes contain a moderate amount of melanin.

– Lipochromes are yellow and orange pigments that also appear in green and blue eyes. Hazel eyes contain some lipochrome pigments as well.

The amount and distribution of these pigments in the iris determine the exact hue of hazel eyes. The stroma, or top fibrous layer of the iris, contains most of the melanin content. Lipochromes are found in the epithelium, the bottom layer of the iris. The combined effect is an eye color that blends brown, green, and gold tones.

This structural composition allows hazel eyes to demonstrate properties of both brown and green eyes. The moderate melanin levels mean hazel eyes can look lighter and brighter in some conditions, similar to green eyes. But the melanin content also allows hazel eyes to seem darker in low light, like brown eyes. This ability to shift between lighter and darker shades is key to hazel eyes appearing more green in certain settings.

Genetic Factors in Hazel Eyes

In addition to structural factors within the eye, genetics also play a major role in determining hazel eye color. Hazel eyes arise when an individual inherits genetic variants for both lighter and darker eye colors.

Most commonly, hazel eyes occur when someone inherits a variant form of the OCA2 gene. The OCA2 gene provides instructions for making the melanin pigment. Variants of this gene reduce the amount of melanin produced, leading to lighter eye colors like green.

However, hazel-eyed individuals also inherit other genetic variants that increase melanin production. The interplay between gene variants that increase and decrease melanin results in the blended, intermediate eye color that characterizes hazel eyes.

The exact gene combinations that lead to hazel eye color are not fully understood. But it is likely that inheriting more genes linked to lighter eye colors tips hazel eyes toward the green end of the spectrum. The genetic propensity for lightness and melanin reduction primes hazel eyes to appear greener in the right conditions.

Optical Factors That Make Hazel Eyes Look Greener

Genetics and eye structure lay the groundwork that allows hazel eyes to fluctuate between shades. But several optical factors actually cause the eyes to look more green at specific times:

The Rayleigh Scattering Effect

Hazel eyes contain moderate amounts of melanin pigment. Melanin causes brown eyes to appear dark by absorbing all light wavelengths. In hazel eyes, less melanin means more light can penetrate and reflect back out.

Shorter wavelength colors like blue and green light bounce back more easily than longer oranges and reds. This principle, known as Rayleigh scattering, makes the eyes look more green-blue, especially in bright lighting.

Surrounding Colors

The principle of simultaneous contrast states that nearby colors impact the appearance of eye color. Complementary colors, located opposite each other on the color wheel, enhance one another when seen together.

Green’s complement is red. So wearing red clothing or having a red backdrop will make hazel eyes look greener through simultaneous contrast. Cool tones like blues and greens will also bring out the green hues in hazel eyes more.

Blood Vessels

Tiny blood vessels can be seen just beneath the surface of the iris. These blood vessels normally appear blue or green. In hazel eyes with less melanin, the blood vessel color is more visible and adds to the green appearance.

Lighting Conditions

As mentioned, melanin causes eyes to look darker in low light. With less melanin, hazel eyes don’t darken as much in dim conditions. The lighter color in low light takes on a more green/yellow shift without the scaling effects of melanin absorption. Bright sunlight, on the other hand, illuminates hazel eyes more, enhancing the Rayleigh scattering effect and making them look greener.

Do Hazel Eyes Ever Truly Change Color?

Given all these factors that make hazel eyes appear more green in certain conditions, it’s understandable why people think their eye color is actually changing. But while hazel eye color can dramatically shift toward green or gold temporarily, the eyes do not undergo a real, permanent color change.

True changes in eye color over one’s lifetime are quite rare. There are a few potential causes, including:

– Eye injury – Trauma to the eyes can sometimes change melanin content and distribution. But significant injury would be required, so this is an unlikely cause in most people.

– Pigment dispersion syndrome – This condition causes pigment granules from the iris to flake off and collect in other eye structures. As pigment levels in the iris decrease, the eye color grows lighter. But this again requires the presence of a specific medical syndrome.

– Fuch’s heterochromic iridocyclitis – This rare inflammatory eye condition can lead to changes in eye color by altering melanin content in one eye.

– Horner’s syndrome – This condition arising from nerve damage can cause one eye to become lighter in color than the other. But hazel eyes would likely only demonstrate subtle shifts, not a completely different eye color.

Unless affected by one of the above medical conditions, which represent a minority of people, hazel eyes are not undergoing true color change. The colors are simply fluctuating in appearance due to the unique mix of pigments in hazel eyes.

Factors That Impact Apparent Hazel Eye Color Change


Many people report their hazel eyes looking more green as they age. Over time, the melanin levels in the eyes often gradually decrease. Less melanin means lighter eye color, allowing the green hues to stand out more.

Age Group Typical Melanin Level
Infants Very low
Children Low to moderate
Young adults Moderate to high
Senior adults Low to moderate

As seen above, melanin levels follow a U-shaped curve over the typical human lifespan. This explains why hazel eyes may appear lighter and greener in older age.


Certain illnesses, especially inflammatory or autoimmune conditions, may temporarily change melanin production and distribution in the eyes. For example, iritis involves inflammation of the iris that could alter its appearance. But these color changes reverse once the illness resolves.


Some medications also affect melanin levels or bind to melanin in the eyes. Eye drop medications like prostaglandin analogs increase pigment in the iris. On the other hand, drugs like chloroquine may reduce melanin. Hazel eyes could show temporary green or brown shifts with certain medications.


Applying complementary color eye makeup is a simple way to make hazel eyes look greener. Green eyeliner and eye shadow will accentuate the green tones in hazel eyes. Even brown or gold liner can help hazel eyes appear brighter and more green-yellow.

Contact Lenses

Color contact lenses that are green or light brown can alter the appearance of hazel eyes dramatically. Green lenses will make hazel eyes look very green. Contacts that add bright flecks around the pupil also accentuate the color variability of hazel eyes.

Clothing and Background Colors

As described previously, surrounding colors impact hazel eye color through the principle of simultaneous contrast. Choosing clothing, wall colors, and decor in complementary greens and reds will reliably bring out more green flecks in hazel eyes. Cool blue tones work to a lesser degree as well.


Hazel eyes are primed structurally and genetically to shift between shades of green, brown, and gold. While true color change is very rare, hazel eyes can appear dramatically greener due to optical factors like Rayleigh scattering, contrast effects, lighting conditions, and reduced melanin levels with age. The color fluctuations are most noticeable under bright lighting against red backgrounds. Although hazel eye color is not changing permanently, the chameleon-like ability to transform between green and brown makes hazel eyes endlessly intriguing.

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