Color Contacts: History of Changing Your Eye Color

It has been said that eyes are the window into the soul. If that is true, then eye colors are the soul’s curtains, a decorative adornment that frames your view of the main event. Human eye color is determined by a number of factors, including the pigment of melanin within the iris, as well as the thickness of iris cell layers, which causes light to be absorbed in different ways. These factors are often determined genetically, as certain eye colors can either be dominant or recessive.

Brown Eyes

Brown eyes are a dominant trait extremely prevalent in people from continents like Africa and Asia.


If you’ll recall from 10th grade biology, the easiest way to represent how dominant and recessive traits manifest themselves is using a Punnett Square. In reality, eye colors are derived from a variety of factors, including how much yellow and black pigment certain genes are coded to produce.

Blue Eyes

A recessive trait, blue eyes are often thought of as a sought-after characteristic. One study even shows that blue eyed men seek out blue-eyed women from an evolutionary standpoint in order to verify paternity.


A recent study in the Daily Mail showed a correlative relationship between blue eyed individuals and more effective studying habits (the same study showed that people with brown-eyes had faster reaction times).

According to Noele Kensut, in 1900, almost 50% of Americans had blue eyes. However, that number is dwindling quickly reaching only 17% today. More interestingly, no President since Richard Nixon has been elected without blue eyes. Kensut speculates that that’s because voters subconsciously register a preference for someone with “deeper roots” in America. In any case, the number of blue-eyed people continues to decline.

Green Eyes

Extremely beautiful and very rare, green eyes are a recessive trait that exist in only 1-2% of the population.

Part of their rarity derives from the fact that even blue eyes are dominant over green eyes. Green eyes have been prominently mentioned in pop culture works such as Coldplay’s “Green Eyes” song and Joyce Carol Oates book, Freaky Green Eyes.

The History of Colored Contacts

With dramatic advancements in technology in the last few decades, it is now possible to use contact lenses to cosmetically alter the appearance of eyes. To trace the history of colored contacts, one first needs to know the history of contact lenses in general. Although Leonardo Da Vinci is often credited with having conceived of the first ever contact lens in his book Codex of the eye, Manual D, it was not until 1887 that F.E. Muller, a German glassblower, developed an eye covering that could be worn bearably. German physiologist Adolf Eugen Fick had grabbed hold on the concept within a year’s time and created the first wearable contact lens. Sadly it was very unwieldy, large and could only be worn a few hours at a time.


In 1949, the first “corneal” contact lenses were developed, which could be worn 16 hours at a time. PMMA corneal lenses were causing quite a stir by the 1960’s as people with poor eyesight were finally able to experience what it was like not to wear glasses. What came clear with more time, however, was that PMMA corneal lenses came consequences: the lenses did not allow any oxygen through the lens to the conjunctiva and cornea. “RGP” lenses (rigid gas permeable) were developed to remedy this problem, but were of course quite uncomfortable for the wearer. Czech chemist Otto Wichterle finally developed the first soft contact lens, which was approved by the FDA in 1971 and forever changed contact lenses for public usage.

Today, a wide variety of colored contact lenses are available for purchase for prescription or cosmetic use (the latter are called Plano, or zero-power contacts.) Most commonly people with brown eyes want to try a lighter color, as lighter eyes are frequently portrayed as being more desirable. However, lighter eyes tend to absorb sunlight more easily and cause sensitivity, so there is in fact a price to pay for their loveliness. Brown eyes can often deepen a rich and sensuous appearance as well, which blue eyes cannot necessarily duplicate. Each color has its own depth and beauty, and the existence of colored lenses make it possible for us to play with all of them.


Colette has written for a number of video game websites including Gamasutra, Kotaku, and Destructoid and co-hosted one hundred episodes of gaming podcast RetroforceGo! She also founded her own collectible toy culture blog in 2008,, which has since served the needs of over 2 million plastic-obsessed readers.