Sometimes patients will tell me that their eyes change color depending on the clothes that they wear.  Is there really something to this?  First, we have to talk about the science of the iris (the colored part of the eye).

The iris gets its color really from two things: from the organization of the fibrous tissue that makes up the majority of the iris tissue and from a brown pigment found in the iris and throughout the body called melanin.  From a general standpoint, the amount of melanin one has in his/her iris determines the color of his/her eyes.  Blue eyes have little melanin.  Brown eyes have more melanin.  Green and hazel eyes have moderate amounts of melanin.  There is no blue or green pigment in the iris.

The iris structure has no way of “re-organizing” the melanin or the fibrous tissue to change its color.  So technically…the answer to the question is no.  The iris does NOT change color based on the clothes that a person wears.

Then, why, you may ask, do we hear this so often?  There has got to be something to this.  Clothing, particularly bright clothing, can have an effect on the appearance of a person’s eyes.  Lighting will also have an effect.  This “illusion” can be very dramatic in some people depending on their eye color.  In others, particularly those with dark eyes, there is no effect at all.