Changing Your Eye Color: How Does It Work and Is It Safe?

Have you ever thought about what it would feel like to have a different eye color? Well, now you can turn that into reality. Many people who are interested in changing their eye color are considering surgical options. But, is it safe to undergo medical procedures for this purpose? And are there any natural alternatives available? In this article, we'll explore the possibilities of safely changing eye color, considering both medical and natural approaches.

Common reasons for changing eye color

There can be multiple reasons as to why a person may consider changing their eye color. Some seek to align with contemporary standards of beauty and glamour; others affected by certain medical conditions may wish to alter their eye color to enhance their appearance, especially when the color of the iris is affected.

Congenital reasons:

  • Horner’s syndrome. A rare disorder that affects the sympathetic nerves of the eye.
  • Aniridia. In this congenital condition, the iris is absent at birth.
  • Coloboma. A part of the iris is missing, giving the pupil a keyhole-shaped appearance.
  • Sturge–Weber syndrome. A neurological disorder that leads to glaucoma.
  • Waardenburg’s syndrome. A familial disorder with symptoms such as partial albinism, deafness, and similar.

Acquired reasons:

  • Fuchs’ heterochromic iridocyclitis. Iris becomes lighter in color and can be unilateral (only one eye affected).
  • Treatment for glaucoma. Various drugs such as latanoprost, bimatoprost, travaprost can darken the color of the iris.
  • Trauma/surgery.
  • Iris melanoma. This cancerous condition affects people with lighter eyes.
  • Heterochromia. It is a condition where both eyes are of different color.

The science behind eye color

Although eye color is influenced by various factors such as age or disease conditions, eye color is primarily determined by genetic factors. Brown eyes are the most common, followed by hazel and blue color. Green eyes are the rarest among eye colors.

The iris is a circular muscle that controls the amount of light entering through the pupil. Depending on the type of melanin pigment contained, the iris has a different color. For instance, iris containing eumelanin typically appears brown or black, while those with pheomelanin may display blue or green hues.

Can eye color change with age?

Eye color can indeed change with age. The Newborn Eye Screening Test (NEST) study conducted at Stanford University School of Medicine examined the iris color of infants for two years after their birth. The study noted that in 66.9% of infants, the eye color did not change over the two-year period. Among infants with changed eye color, brown-eyed infants had a lower frequency of color change. In contrast, infants with blue eye color had a significantly higher frequency of eye color change than infants with brown eye color.

Another study reported that, in most twins, the iris color continues to change until age six and stabilizes later. However, for approximately 10-15% of individuals, the iris color continued to change until adulthood. Although the underlying physiological mechanisms are not clear, genetic factors may be responsible for the iris color change.

Are there any pathological causes for eye color change?

The iris color may also be influenced by diseases. Apart from the conditions mentioned earlier, the iris color also changes in certain diseases, infections, and conditions like neurofibromatosis, herpes simplex, Down syndrome, or albinism. Moreover, the hue of the iris is linked to the risk of certain diseases. For example, individuals with darker iris colors face an increased risk of developing conditions like cataracts. However, research did not prove the association between darker iris color and macular degeneration.

Are there natural ways to change eye color yourself?

Social media influencers have made claims about changing their eye color from brown to green by switching to a specific diet (e.g., veganism) or other lifestyle changes (e.g., applying honey to the eyes). However, there is no scientific evidence to support these claims. Further research is required to identify lifestyle factors that change the iris color.

Non-surgical methods to change eye color

When it comes to non-surgical methods, there are two common ways to change your eye color: with lenses and with eyedrops.

Cosmetic (colored) lenses can temporarily change eye color. Get a prescription from your optometrist instead of buying any decorative lenses. These lenses require regular cleaning and disinfecting. When not correctly used, these lenses can cause various problems such as:

  • Pain in the eyes
  • Redness
  • Itching or watering of the eyes
  • Abrasions of the eye surface

Certain eye drop or eye balm manufacturers claim that their products can permanently change eye color. However, these claims are not backed by rigorous scientific studies. Such unsubstantiated claims can lead to potential harm (e.g. vision loss). Hence, consult your ophthalmologist even before considering these eye drops.

Eye color change surgeries

For permanent changes in eye color, surgical options are available. Before considering eye color correction procedures, please take note of important precautions suggested by your ophthalmologist. These procedures are only recommended for medical purposes and have to be discussed with an ophthalmologist due to potential complications which may result in eye infections, damage, or even long-term eyesight worsening and loss.

Keratopigmentation surgery is commonly known as corneal tattooing. Doctors recommend keratopigmentation when patients need eye reconstruction for cosmetic reasons but cannot use lenses due to the uneven corneal surface. This procedure is less invasive compared to other options such as graft (keratoplasty). Due to its low cost and fewer complications, it has found growing popularity.

In this procedure, doctors place micronized mineral pigments or chemical dyes either superficially on the cornea or within its layers. The recovery period lasts for 3–4 weeks. Although this procedure is relatively safe, post-operative complications such as inflammation, infection, and blurred vision were occasionally reported during the recovery period. Health insurance may not cover the procedure if performed for cosmetic reasons. Check with your insurance provider for your out-of-pocket expenses.

Laser depigmentation is another method of eye color change surgery in which the natural brown pigment is reduced using a Nd:YAG laser beam. Once the brown pigment is removed, the underlying natural fibers are revealed. The result is lighter eyes such as blue or green. Since it is difficult to predict the color of underlying fibers, one of the main drawbacks of this method is getting an unwanted color. i.e., the patient wanted blue eyes but got green eyes.

This procedure is usually well-tolerated by the patients, and the recovery time is up to three days. Post-operative complications are rare; however, in some cases, doctors noted iritis (inflammation of the iris). Your doctor may prescribe topical medication if such complications arise.

Besides these two procedures, ophthalmic surgeons do iris transplant surgeries to change the eye color. However, an iris transplant is associated with serious risks such as glaucoma, cataracts, and severe vision loss, so it is not recommended for cosmetic purposes.

Will my eye color change permanently after the procedure?

After keratopigmentation or laser surgery, the eye color change is considered permanent. But if the patient develops conditions such as Horner’s syndrome or eye trauma after the surgery, then eye color may change over time.

Summarizing eye color change procedures

Here in the table below, we summarize the procedures generally used to change the eye color. These procedures are recommended when there are medical indications and not meant for cosmetic purposes.

Eye colorProcedurePermanence
From green to blue (vice-versa)LensesTemporary
From brown to blue/greenLaserPermanent
From blue/green to brownKeratopigmentation Permanent

You may notice that lenses are often recommended to change eye color from green to blue and vice-versa. Patients with blue or green eyes may get an unwanted eye color if they opt for surgical procedures, so often lenses are recommended as a more reliable alternative.

Surgical measures such as keratopigmentation or laser permanently change eye color. However, given the associated risks, doctors advise these measures only when necessary. Talk to your ophthalmologist about temporary options (lenses) available for you if you wish to change your eye color.

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