Why brown eyes are so common?

Brown eyes are the most common eye color in the world, with over half of the global population having brown eyes. But why are brown eyes so prevalent compared to other eye colors like blue and green eyes? Here are some quick answers to key questions about the dominance of brown eyes:

What Causes Brown Eyes?

Eye color is determined by the amount and type of melanin pigment in the iris of the eye. Brown eyes contain large amounts of melanin. The melanin concentration in brown eyes is very high compared to other eye colors.

Melanin is a pigment that provides color to the skin, hair, and eyes. The melanin in brown eyes serves to protect them from sun damage by absorbing ultraviolet light and acting as an anti-oxidant. Higher melanin levels equate to darker brown eye color.

Melanin and Iris Pigmentation

Melanin is synthesized in melanocytes, which are specialized pigment cells in the iris of the eye. The melanocytes produce eumelanin, the brown/black pigment, and pheomelanin, the red/yellow pigment.

Dark brown eyes contain mostly eumelanin, while medium and light brown eyes have more pheomelanin. The combination and concentration of both melanins determines the exact shade of brown.

The Genetics Behind Brown Eyes

Brown eye color is very common due to the genetics associated with it. Eye color is determined by multiple genes that control the amount and type of melanin produced.

The main gene involved is OCA2 (oculocutaneous albinism II), which codes for the P protein. This protein plays an essential role in melanin production. Certain variations in the OCA2 gene reduce the amount of P protein, resulting in less melanin pigment in the iris. The most common OCA2 variation leads to brown eyes.

Dominant Brown Alleles

The brown eye versions (or alleles) of the OCA2 gene are dominant over the recessive blue/green alleles. This means that even if someone carries a blue eye genetic variant, if they also have the dominant brown allele, their eyes will be brown. Therefore, brown is much more prevalent than recessively-inherited colors like blue and green.

In a nutshell, brown eye genes are very common and are genetically dominant over other eye colors. This contributes to the overwhelming frequency of brown eyes globally.

The Evolutionary Origins of Brown Eyes

Scientists believe brown eyes originated as an evolutionary adaptation among early humans in Africa. The first modern humans to evolve had brown eyes.

The high melanin levels and UV-blocking capabilities conferred protective benefits under the intense African sun. This made brown eyes advantageous from an evolutionary perspective. Consequently, brown eye color became widespread in equatorial populations.

Migration and Spread of Brown Eyes

As humans migrated out of Africa to other areas, such as Europe and Asia, the brown eye trait spread. Populations that settled in colder northern regions with less sun exposure underwent genetic mutations that reduced melanin production, leading to lighter eye colors like blue and green.

But the original brown-eyed African populations had already expanded considerably. Together with the continued genetic dominance of brown alleles, this resulted in the universal prevalence of brown eyes across the world today.

Geographic Distribution of Brown Eyes

While brown eyes are the most common eye color worldwide, their prevalence varies by geographic region and ethnicity. The highest concentrations of brown eyes are found in Africa, Asia and the Americas – areas historically populated by people originating from Africa.

For example, nearly all native Sub-Saharan Africans, Aboriginal Australians, and Southeast Asians have brown eyes. Over 70-80% of South Asians, Latin Americans, and Southern Europeans also have brown eyes.

In contrast, Northern Europeans have lower rates of brown eyes. About 39% of Western Europeans have brown eyes. For Eastern Europeans, only around 36% have brown eyes. But brown still dominates other eye colors in these populations.

Racial Differences in Brown Eyes

When broken down by race, over 75-90% of those identifying as Black, Hispanic/Latino, or American Indian have brown eyes. For Asian and Pacific Islanders, brown eyes are almost universal at over 92-98%. Rates are lower among White populations at around 42-47%.

This data clearly shows the strong correlation between brown eye color and racial/ethnic ancestry tied to Africa and Asia, where brown eyes initially proliferated.

Common Brown Eye Shades and Patterns

While generally categorized as “brown,” eye color exists along a spectrum from dark brown to light golden brown. Some other variations and patterns also occur. Here are some of the most common shades and types of brown eyes:

  • Dark brown – very dark, almost black-looking brown.
  • Medium brown – rich chocolate or coffee-colored brown.
  • Light brown – caramel or honey-colored brown.
  • Amber – light golden or reddish-brown.
  • Hazel – mix of light brown and green.
  • Heterochromia – one brown eye and one eye of another color.
  • Central heterochromia – inner ring of yellow, green or blue around the pupil.
  • Brown with grey outer ring around the iris.

Influence of Melanin Concentration

The exact shade of brown is influenced mainly by the concentration and distribution of melanin pigment within the iris. Darker eyes have more eumelanin concentrated toward the front of the iris. Lighter brown eyes have less total melanin concentrated more toward the back.

Melanin amount and type combined with cellular structure of the iris determines the myriad possible shades of mesmerizing brown eyes.

Popularity and Perceptions of Brown Eyes

Throughout history, there have been changing societal perceptions of different eye colors and their attractiveness or desirability. Blue, green and gray eyes have at times been portrayed as more attractive, exotic or indicative of personality traits.

But in recent years, brown eyes have also been increasingly celebrated as equally beautiful and alluring. Dark brown eyes are often described as rich, deep and romantic. The brown spectrum also allows for many interesting and unique variations.

Appreciation of Brown Eyes Growing

While still valued by some as a rare eye color, many now rightfully view blue/green eyes as just a genetic trait and not inherently more attractive or meaningful. As knowledge and appreciation of diversity grow, brown eyes have regained standing as a profoundly lovely eye color in their own right.

Given how common brown eyes are worldwide, increased recognition of their beauty allows most people on Earth to feel good about their natural eye color and its link to their ethnic heritage.


Brown eyes have captivated humanity for millennia and remain the leading eye color by far. Brown eyes originated due to high melanin levels adapted to intense sun exposure in Africa. They spread through dominant genetics and human migration, becoming the norm across most parts of the world.

Dark brown eyes still characterize certain ethnic groups and regions, while also occurring ubiquitously worldwide. Brown eyes display an array of exotic shades and patterns based on iris melanin content. Once overshadowed by other eye colors, brown eyes are now increasingly celebrated as equally beautiful, meaningful and special.

So the next time you gaze into a pair of big, beautiful brown eyes, appreciate the story behind their stunning color and allure. Brown eyes represent our shared human history and remind us that eyes may be windows to the soul, but eye color is merely biology.

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