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Between 70 to 80% of the global population has brown eyes, making them the most common eye color in the world.
The overwhelming majority of people in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East have brown eyes. In Europe, it varies by region: eye color tends to be lighter in Northern Europe versus the South.
In the United States, people with brown eyes comprise 41% of the population.
Brown eyes come in a variety of shades: from light caramel-brown to dark, bordering on black.
Lighter shades of brown are more common in the US and Europe, while darker hues are more prevalent in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
Here are some examples of the various shades brown eyes can come in:
Just like for skin and hair color, eye color is determined by your level of melanin. Melanin is located in the iris, the circular “colored part” of the eye. This is what gives your eyes their color.
Because melanin is a brown pigment, all eyes are technically brown. The reason some eyes are lighter than others is that they have less melanin; brown eyes have more.
When light hits the iris of eyes with less melanin, it splits into various colors along the spectrum (this is known as Rayleigh scattering).
Your genetics determines your level of melanin. Scientists have identified 16 different genes that play a role in determining eye color.
One of the most important is OCA2 because it controls melanin production. People with lighter eyes have a mutation that “deactivates” this gene.
Here are seven interesting facts about brown eyes:
Researchers at the University of Louisville found eye color may have some link to performance in sports.
People with brown eyes performed better in fast-paced sports like football and hockey than their lighter-eyed counterparts.5
While Europeans can have brown eyes just like people from other parts of the world, the difference is Europeans with brown eyes aren’t born with them.
According to an article in LiveScience, most European babies are born with blue eyes - those with brown eyes develop them months later, as melanin production picks up.10
Maybe this explains where the term “baby blues” comes from.
It seems hard to believe that eye color could play a role in perceptions of pain, but that’s what researchers have found.
A study in the (ominously titled) Journal of Pain found that pregnant women with brown eyes had on average more painful times giving birth than lighter-eyed women.8
They also were more susceptible to anxiety, depression, and even sleep issues.9
People with brown eyes are seen as more trustworthy. A Czech study found that participants looking at photos of people with brown eyes rated them more trustworthy than those with blue eyes.3
While that study was small, polling data also shows people associate brown eyes with kindness, patience, and reliability.2
According to the National Library of Medicine, eye color is a risk factor for hearing loss.8
Melanin can protect nerves from noise. Since brown-eyed people tend to have more melanin, they’re less sensitive to loud noises.
People with light-colored eyes often find bright sunlight uncomfortable (a condition known as photophobia). Due to their higher melanin, people with brown eyes are more comfortable with bright light.
It turns out that people with brown colored eyes are more sensitive to alcohol. Several studies have found that people with lighter eyes can drink more without getting drunk as quickly.1
But while this means they can hold their liquor more, it also raises their risk for alcoholism.
Because people with brown eyes have less of a tolerance for alcohol, they end up drinking less overall, which lowers their risk for addiction.
Perhaps because they are the most common, people with brown eyes are more likely to wish they had a different color.
According to a poll by 1800Contacts, brown-eyed respondents were at number one with 26.2% saying they wish they had a different eye color, followed by hazel at 17.1%.2
Brown eyes are genetically dominant, meaning two people with brown eyes will generally have a brown-eyed baby.
However, their child can inherit a recessive blue-eyed gene — if both parents have it.
If only one or neither brown-eyed parent carries a recessive blue eye gene, the chance their baby will have blue eyes is zero.
People with brown eyes may be less vulnerable to some diseases. Ocular melanoma, a cancer of the eye, afflicts people with brown eyes less than people with lighter eyes.
People with brown eyes are also less vulnerable to Type 1 Diabetes.7
Just because your eye color is inherited doesn’t mean you’re stuck with it. Colored contacts have been used for decades by Hollywood actors to get their eyes the color they want.
Colored contacts come in a variety of colors, making them a good option for those who want to experiment with new looks.
However, they're also regulated by the FDA, meaning they aren’t always easy to get. If you want some, you’ll need to ask your doctor for a prescription.
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