From modern stars like Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, and Zooey Deschanel, all the way back to timeless legends such as Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman and Ol’ Blue Eyes himself (that would be Frank Sinatra, kids), blue irises have been associated with some of the most striking and visually iconic people in history. Blue eyes have long been prized, even in parts of the world where they do not naturally occur, to the point that today a multi-billion dollar industry revolves around providing cosmetic contact lenses to people who didn’t happen to win that particular genetic lottery. But did you know that in fact everyone in the world has blue eyes? It’s true!
If you’ve ever looked into a newborn’s eyes, you have probably noticed that the irises are pale blue, regardless of the baby’s ethnicity or future eye color as an adult. That blue color is the base color of the human iris. In most humans, that “baby blue” will turn some shade of brown within the first year. However, the iris isn’t truly changing color; what’s happening is that specialized cells in the body, known as melanocytes, are secreting a dark-colored protein known as melanin, which covers the blue iris tissue. This is the same melanin that determines our skin color. (Green eyes, the rarest color of all, occur when the native blue of the iris is covered by a yellow form of melanin, which is far less common than the dark melanin found in brown eyes.)
Some attempts at altering our natural eye color have been quite a bit more radical and invasive than a simple pair of blue or green contact lenses. For over a decade now in Latin America, where blue eyes are extremely rare but nonetheless highly prized, cosmetic procedures have been performed where a colored plastic disc – a false iris, in effect – is placed surgically in the eye, in front of the iris. This procedure is controversial (and in our opinion, dangerous), and it’s unsurprising that it has not made any inroads into North America.
More recently, some physicians have been conducting trials of an experimental procedure wherein a laser is used to destroy the dark melanin in the iris. After the laser treatment the melanin fades away, leaving behind the original blue iris. This procedure is still in the very early stages of development, and long-term side effects are undetermined, so don’t expect to see it available to the public any time soon, even if it does prove safe.
Our best advice to you, if you’re one of the estimated 60% of the world’s population who sees brown eyes looking back at them in the mirror each morning, is to say “You’re beautiful just the way you are!” and remember that your eyes are just as blue as Bradley Cooper’s…underneath, at least.