The Truth About Why Some People Are Born With Purple Eyes

Photo: Rhett Wesley, Wil Stewart & Luke Stackpoole / Unsplash
purple eyes

Purple eyes are beautiful, enchanting and mystical. They are prevalent in many anime shows, as well as characters in live-action shows, like Rowena MacLeod and Tasha Banes from "Supernatural."

Many actors and actresses wear colored contact lenses to make these characters come to life, but do purple eyes exist?

Let's dive into the science behind what causes purple eyes and just how rare they are.

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Do purple eyes exist?

In short, yes, purple eyes do exist, but only in extremely specific circumstances, which includes some eye conditions.

Eye color is determined by the amount of melanin in the front layers of the iris. Therefore, people with dark eyes, like brown eyes, contain a large amount of melanin in the iris, while people with lighter eyes, like blue eyes, have much less of the pigment.

Not only that, but there is also a region on chromosome 15 that plays a major role in the eye color you receive.

For purple eyes, a lot of moving parts need to come together. Actress Elizabeth Taylor's eyes is the most famous example of these fantastical violet or purple eyes. So, it is possible to have naturally purple eyes.

What causes purple eyes?

1. Melanin

Melanin is the real culprit when it comes to determining eye color. It's the major pigment within the iris that gives us the color eyes we live with. The more melanin, the darker the eye color.

Unlike people born with brown eyes, if you are born with a lack of melanin in your iris, it causes light to split into a spectrum, allowing your eyes to be green, hazel, blue, or even purple.

In most cases, however, those with purple eyes are actually more of a violet color. And blue eyes can appear purple due to light reflecting off red blood vessels within the iris.

2. Albinism

Albinism is a genetic disorder that affects the production of melanin, the pigmentation of the skin, hair, and eyes. People with this condition either have very low melanin or none at all.


Because of this, many people with albinism can develop purple eye coloring.

Many believe that people with the genetic disorder only get red eyes. While most people with ocular albinism actually have blue eyes, light can reflect off the blood vessels inside, which can show through the iris, making the eyes seem pink or red. The same goes for purple or violet eyes.

3. Genetics

Going back to biology class, people can get purple eyes through the genetics of their parents.

For example, if a baby has a blue-eyed mother and a gray-eyed father, both recessive genes, the baby will end up with one or the other, or, in some rare cases, a combination.

This is where purple eyes could come from... theoretically.

4. Fuchs uveitis syndrome

Fuchs uveitis syndrome is a condition where the uvea of the eye becomes inflamed. This includes the iris and two parts of the eyes behind the iris, the ciliary body and the choroid.

Some experts believe that this inflammation condition can cause eye color alteration, turning the eyes blue or even purple.

The condition is often caused by autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, sarcoidosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and Behçet's disease. It can also be caused by infections like syphilis and tuberculosis.

5. Eye tumors

Though this is more of a stretch to have purple eyes, it has been proven that eye tumors can cause your eye color to change.

These tumors can grow either within or behind the iris of your eye. The majority of these tumors are actually cysts or pigmented lesions similar to moles called nevi.

People with nevi often see their eye color change. Treatments include radiation and surgery.

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6. Waardenburg syndrome

Waardenburg syndrome is a group of conditions that is normally passed down through families and involves deafness, and light skin, hair and eye color. The condition is an autosomal dominant trait, which means only one parent has to pass on the mutated gene for a child to get it.

There are four main types of Waardenburg syndrome, but the most common are type I and type II. There is no cure, but treatments are available.

What is Alexandria’s Genesis?

Alexandria's Genesis is a mythical medical condition that made its way around the internet. It claimed it made humans "perfect," and a symptom of this was the person's eyes turning purple during infancy due to a genetic mutation.

But this myth is exactly that: a myth. It's even been traced back to 2005.

Other symptoms associated with Alexandria's Genesis are perfect vision, light skin that cannot burn, dark brown hair, no body hair, women not menstruating but continuing to be fertile, having powerful immune systems, and having a well-balanced metabolism. Life expectancy is between 120 and 150 years.

Again, there is no scientific evidence to support these claims.

Is purple the rarest eye color?

Purple eyes are extremely rare, but they have about the same rarity as red eyes. Less than 1% of people in the world to have either of these eye colors.

But aside from purple or violet eyes, there are other eye colors that are pretty rare too:

Black eyes: Black eyes technically don't exist, but are rather extremely dark brown eyes that are hard to distinguish from the pupil.

Pink eyes: Pink eyes can come from albinism, where individuals lack pigmentation in the eye that allows for light to reflect off the blood vessels underneath the iris, which can cause the eyes to look pink. Only one in every 20,000 have the condition that allows for the eye color.

Amber eyes: Amber eyes are often found in people of Asian, Spanish, South American, and South African descent. It's caused by having more pheomelanin pigmentation in the eye than normal. Around 5% of the world's population has Amber eyes.

Red eyes: Red eyes are caused in the exact same way as pink eyes are: albinism and the reflection of red blood vessels. Less than 1% of the world's population has this eye color.

Gray eyes: Gray eyes are pretty rare themselves with only around 3% of the world's population sporting them. Gray-eyed people have similar levels of melanin in them as blue-eyed people.

Green eyes: Green eyes are the result of the iris containing a pigment called lipochrome and only a little melanin. Only around 2% of the world's population has green eyes.

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Deauna Nunes is an associate editor who covers pop culture, lifestyle, zodiac, love and relationship topics for YourTango. She's been published by Emerson College's literary magazine Generic. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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