Will honey lighten the color of my eyes?

Dear Alice,

My eyes are light-brown, and when I've been crying or when it's bright outside they look greenish. I want my eyes to be that greenish all the time. I heard that putting honey in your eyes will lighten them. Are there any side effects? Is it bad for my eyes?

Dear Reader,

Outside of the kitchen, honey has quite a sweet reputation. Some say honey can improve skin texture, clear up dandruff, or reduce high cholesterol. But before you run straight for the beehive, know that there isn’t any evidence that honey can lighten eye color. That’s because eye color results from the combination of pigment inside the eye and reflection of light outside it. And since putting honey on the eye’s surface can’t impact either of these, using it won’t change their color. In fact, putting anything in the eye, whether it’s honey or not, poses a risk of irritation and injury. Still, there are other options, such as techniques to highlight the color of your eyes and working with an eye care professional to get prescription color contacts, which may help you achieve your desired eye look.

You might be wondering, why doesn’t honey have an effect on eye color? Well, the main determinant of eye color is the amount of brown pigment, known as melanin, in the iris (the ring around your eye that's colored). There are two layers of the iris and while all people have some brown pigment on the back layer, people with blue eyes tend to not have any pigment on the front layer. When light shines on eyes with more brown pigment in the outer layer, it gets absorbed, which keeps eyes looking brown. For people who don’t have any brown pigment on the outer layer of the iris, light will scatter instead of getting absorbed. This process results in light being reflected back onto the eye, giving it the appearance of a blue color. For green and hazel eyes, there may be some melanin on the outer layer, so eyes may look green or brown depending on the amount of light. 

Though there isn't evidence that honey applied to the eyes will impact their color, there’s limited research on the medical uses in humans. However, all isn’t lost for this long-standing staple. One study looked at the effects of medical-grade honey as a treatment for dry eye compared to conventional therapies of a warm compress, lid massage, and eye lubricant. The researchers found that honey, administered through medical-grade eye drops, was effective in improving dry eye and inflammation when added to conventional treatments. Still, more thorough research is needed to determine if honey, whether conventional or medical grade, is safe and effective in humans.

Based on the lack of evidence, it may make more sense to keep the honey in your teacup and out of your eyes. Instead, you might think about trying these alternate solutions:

  • Play up your natural eye color by wearing colors that are contrasting. If you want to highlight the green in your eyes, try wearing reds, purples, or browns. If you wear it, you could also try doing this with eye shadow.
  • Try prescription color contacts by working with an eye care professional. In the US, all contacts are considered a medical device and it’s illegal to sell them without a prescription. That’s due in part to the risk of medical damage posed by ill-fitting lenses. These risks include developing a sore or scratching your cornea (the surface of your eye) and developing a bacterial infection that can possibly lead to irreversible blindness. If you decide to go this route, it’s recommended that you work with an eye care professional to ensure the lenses fit well and are from a reputable source. Because your eyes are light brown, most color contacts will likely appear true to color upon application.

Here’s a final thought: There’s a lot more to the eyes than color. What about the shape of your eyes, your eyelashes, or how your eyes complement your other features? You may embrace the fact that your eyes look differently depending on the brightness of the day or whether you’ve shed a tear or two. Brown eyes are warm, inviting, and beautiful in their own right. The fact that your eyes go from that to green is pretty amazing!

Last updated Nov 13, 2020
Originally published Feb 01, 2013