The Rarest Eye Colors In The World

Eyes are powerful, and not just because of that creepy Illuminati eye symbol. Often dubbed the "windows to the soul," staring into a person's open eyes is one of the most intimate forms of connection there is. It's no wonder that humans are so fascinated by the many different eye colors. As you probably know, eye color is determined by the amount of melanin found in the front layers of the iris. Melanin is a pigment created by cells called melanocytes, which are located in your pupils and irises. The more melanin in your iris, the darker its color. While everyone is familiar with brown eyes, green eyes, and blue eyes, there are some rarer colors out there — and red and violet are among the rarest. There's a caveat, though.

Though red and violet are technically two of the rarest eye colors, they're only found in people with albinism. People with albinism are born with very low levels of pigment in their skin and hair. Most people with this condition do not have red or purple eyes, but some do. According to Verywell Health, less than 1% of the population have eye colors outside of green, hazel/amber, blue, and brown, and the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation says 1 in 18,000 to 20,000 Americans has albinism.

A lack of pigment

As explained by a study in the Journal of Human Genetics, red and violet eyes in people with albinism are actually caused by the sheer lack of color in their irises, which then causes the blood vessels on the retina to show through. "When there is too little pigment to produce a strong blue color, the red reflections interact with the small amount of blue, producing a violet color," the study noted. As such, red and violet aren't "true" eye colors in the same sense as, say, hazel eyes, as they're not the result of pigmentation.

What about Elizabeth Taylor, you ask? Well, it's tricky. Speaking to the AARP, Julie Kaplan, a physician at the Center for Personalized Genetic Healthcare at Cleveland Clinic, said Elizabeth Taylor's eyes certainly appeared violet  — but technically, they were blue. Whether you think of violet as a real eye "color" or not depends on how you define it. "There are various shades of blues and grays, with many in-between," Norman Saffra, chairman of the ophthalmology department at the Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, told Live Science. "Violet may have been her typical pigmentation. It's possible to have that eye color; it all depends on the amount of melanin." Regardless, the actress knew how to bring out violet in her eyes through the use of makeup, photography, and so on.

Gray eyes are also rare

If you take red and violet out of the equation, what other eye colors are exceedingly rare? Gray eyes, which certainly look quite mystical if you're lucky enough to have them. Verywell Health says that less than 1% of the population has gray eyes — just like red and violet. Though previous data suggested green was rarer than gray, gray is now considered its own color instead of being grouped with blue — an incorrect classification that overestimated its prevalence, the outlet said.

True gray eyes, according to the World Atlas, are most frequently seen in the populations of Eastern Europe and Northern Europe. They are caused by a low level of melanin in the front layer of the iris. "The colour has nothing to do with pigment," Dr. Karan Raj said in one of his TikTok videos. "Similar to those with blue eyes, the gray-eyed folks have little to no melanin pigment in the stroma of the iris," the author explained elsewhere in the video. But while blue eyes reflect the shortest light wavelength — blue — gray eyes have more collagen deposits in the stroma. "This means there's a more even scattering of all the lights that's not frequency-dependant," he said.

Find out why having blue eyes with red hair is also very rare.