Is it possible to change your eye color?

Your eye color fully matures in infancy. From this early age, you’ll have naturally brown, blue, hazel, green, or gray eyes for the rest of your life. Some people wear colored contacts to enhance the intensity or change the color of their eyes. Others go to more extreme measures.

A new controversial surgical procedure that permanently changes eye color is gaining traction. The practice, popular among celebrities, uses an artificial iris to drastically alter your eye color in a matter of minutes. Many doctors warn that this technique can lead to severe eye damage.

The easiest and most common way to change your eye color temporarily is to wear contact lenses. You can go from a deep brown to a light hazel eye in a matter of seconds (or minutes, depending how long it takes you to get the contacts in).

Colored contact lenses come in three tints:

Opaque: Opaque-tint lenses are solid and non-transparent, offering a complete color change. This type of tint works best for people with dark eyes who want to go dramatically lighter, such as going from dark brown to ice gray.

The most popular opaque colors include:

  • blue
  • hazel
  • green
  • violet
  • gray
  • amethyst
  • brown

Enhancement: Enhancement-tint contact lenses boost your natural eye color. These types of lenses are transparent and solid in color. They help define the edges of your iris and add intensity to your eye color. If, for example, you have jade-green eyes and want to alter them to emerald, enhancement lenses would work well.

Visibility: Visibility-tint contact lenses don’t actually change your eye color. These lenses have faint flecks of light blue or green, which can accentuate your natural eye color.

Be aware: Decorative contact lenses

Decorative lenses, or plano contacts, are often used as fashion or costume accessories, especially during Halloween. For example, you can create cat eyes and white irises using plano contacts.

You can buy decorative lenses in stores or online, but the American Optometric Association recommends getting a prescription first. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists all contact lenses as medical devices, which means you need a valid prescription in order to purchase them.

Decorative lenses carry the same health risks as corrective lenses when used incorrectly. If you buy corrective or plano contacts without a prescription, or buy lenses that aren’t approved by the FDA, you run the chance of getting defective or unsanitary lenses.

This can increase your risk of:

  • blurry vision
  • vision loss
  • itchy, watery eyes and other allergic reactions
  • corneal abrasion (a scratch on the outer layer of the eye)
  • blindness

Contact your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms after wearing contact lenses:

  • eye redness
  • persistent eye pain
  • discharge from your eyes
  • slight vision loss

These may be symptoms of an eye infection. An untreated eye infection can become severe and possibly lead to blindness.

Learn more: Chronic dry eye and contact lenses »

Iris implant surgery was first developed to treat traumatic eye injuries and medical conditions. These include aniridia, when the entire iris is missing, and coloboma, when part of the iris is missing.

During this procedure, the doctor makes a small incision in the cornea and inserts a silicone-based artificial iris, folded to fit into the slit. They then unfold the artificial iris underneath the cornea so that it covers the natural iris. Typically, they’ll use a local anesthetic.

Despite its medical purposes, the procedure has become increasingly popular for cosmetic reasons. Many people opt to undergo surgery to change their eye color, even though their natural iris functions normally.

Research shows that people who have had cosmetic iris implant surgery are more likely to experience complications.

This includes:

  • some vision loss or blindness
  • glaucoma from the elevated pressure inside the eye
  • cataracts, which occur when the clear lens of the eye becomes clouded
  • cornea injury
  • swelling of the cornea, known as corneal edema
  • uveitis, a form of eye inflammation that leads to redness, pain, and blurred vision

Cosmetic iris implant surgery is a relatively new and controversial practice that has yet to be scrutinized fully by medical researchers. There is little to no evidence proving the procedure is effective and safe. The procedure hasn’t been evaluated by a regulatory agency in the United States, nor has it undergone clinical trials. Because of this, people must travel overseas to get this surgery.

Another controversial practice to permanently change your eye color from brown to blue includes the use of a low-energy laser. This laser removes pigment from the layer of interlaced tissue in the iris, known as the stroma. Gregg Homer, a scientist who founded the Stroma Medical Corporation in 2009, developed this technique. It’s not yet available to the general public. According to Stroma’s website, this procedure is currently undergoing clinical trials.

The short answer: no. The pigment melanin determines your eye color. Eyes with a lot of melanin will be naturally darker. The less melanin in your eyes, the lighter they’ll be.

For the most part, your eye color will stay the same from infancy. Research has found that eye color can change in rare cases due to injury or genetics.

Some people have two different colored irises from a condition called heterochromia. This condition is often caused by injury or trauma to the eye. Rarely, it may be caused by a birth defect such as Waardenburg syndrome, Sturge-Weber syndrome, congenital Horner’s syndrome, or Parry-Romberg syndrome.

Pigmentary glaucoma may also affect your eye color. This is a type of inborn open-angle glaucoma that can develop during your 20s or 30s.

Some people have claimed that bathing your eye in a mixture of pure honey and lukewarm water will change its color over time. There’s no scientific evidence supporting this. In fact, it’s very unlikely because the mixture wouldn’t be able to penetrate the cornea to get to your iris. So while honey can help ease inflammation and treat dry eye, it won’t change your eye color.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology came out against cosmetic iris implant surgery in 2014. The organization warned that the procedure could lead to severe eye complications, including vision loss and blindness. Many ophthalmologists agree and have panned the surgery over the last few years. Although the procedure may be popular among celebrities, that doesn’t mean it’s actually safe in the long run.

If you want to change your eye color, opt for a non-invasive, temporary change, such as using tinted contacts. Wearing prescription or decorative contacts may come with some risks, but contacts can be far safer than going under the knife.

Keep reading: Eye care »