Why the “whites” of some young women’s eyes have a blue tinge

The singer “St Vincent”:

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I have noticed that very young and healthy women (and perhaps men) have the “whites” of their eyes with a bluish tinge which is very attractive. This article by Jena Pincott says:

“Looking into my baby daughter’s eyes, I see the blue of her iris is framed by a thick black limbal ring. The contrast makes the white of her eyes so white they look blue. The very young have the thickest, darkest limbal rings. [The limbal ring is the line that separates the colored part of the eye from the white (the sclera).]

Which is exactly the point. The limbal ring serves as an honest signal of youth and health — desirable qualities, reproductively speaking. The ring fades with age and with medical problems. It’s thickest from infancy through the early twenties. A thick, dark limbal ring may make us appear younger. It makes the whites of the eyes whiter. This might be why so many people think light eyes are so sexy: the limbal ring, when present, is more prominent.”

I seem to recall this “so white they look blue” phenomenon on some of the young women I knew years ago who were exceptionally pretty.

Here is an example of bluish sclerae from actress Sean Young (as Rachael in the movie Blade Runner):

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The phenomenon does not occur in all young women; or even, it seems, all the time in the same woman. “St Vincent”, the singer shown above, seems to show the bluish tinge in her eyes in some photos but not others. Likewise, some images of Sean Young in Blade Runner show the effect, while others do not.

Jena Pincott writes “The contrast makes the white of her eyes so white they look blue.” However this makes no real sense. The “white” or sclera of the eye in young people, including these young women, looks bluish because it is bluish. This is probably due to the Tyndall effect. This effect also accounts for the colour of the iris in blue eyes (there is no actual blue pigment – it is an optical effect cause by light scattering). The Tyndall effect makes this suspension of flour in water appear bluish:

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This reference notes that the sclera can look blue in some pathological conditions, for example if scleritis makes the sclera become thin and “appear blue clinically because of the optical Tyndall effect”. However it seems that the “whites” of the eyes can appear slightly blue in normal young people, including young women.

My impression is that the bluish tinge is less common in older people. One reason may be that the “whites” of the eyes tend to become tinged with yellow which might mute the blue colouration. I have also heard that the white or sclera of the eye tends to become thicker with age. But I am not certain about these points.

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24 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by FuzzieWuzzie on June 17, 2015 at 5:37 am

    I have heard it said that Polar Bears have blue fur, not white. To be honest, I haven’t asked any.

    Reply

  2. […] And more recently about “why the whites of some young women’s eyes look blue“. […]

    Reply

  3. […] (sclerae) of her eyes quite well. I have written about this phenomenon and given other examples here, here and […]

    Reply

  4. Two more references to bluish sclera in disease states, such as the connective tissue disorder, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.

    http://www.ednf.org/medical-professionals/ehlers-danlos-syndrome-role-collagen-eye-0

    (“The blue halo becomes less prominent with aging and the normal decrease in scleral transparency.”)

    http://www.wikimedz.com/topic/51e672f0b67035f913441914e31ecd62

    Reply

  5. […] am still chasing this topic, which I have written about previously here and here and […]

    Reply

  6. I didn’t know that blue eyes actually had no blue pigment until I read about the Tyndall Effect.

    Jared Leto’s eyes seem to have that bluish cast to the whites:

    My eyes are blue, but the whites do not look blue. One of my daughters, though, has bluish whites. This is an unedited recent picture of her eyes which shows the effect you are talking about:

    Reply

    • Thank you very much, Sunshine.

      I just finished checking my 21 year old daughter’s eyes and confirming their bluish tinge. I have asked her to check and report on her friends’s eyes, girls and boys. She thinks it is a “young person” phenomenon, not just girls, and she may be right.

      As a man, I tend to notice women’s eyes, and I have a vague recollection of a pretty girl I knew decades ago whose whites were bluish.

      I have other posts on this, and the young Courteney Cox is a beautiful example of the effect in both senses.

      Reply

      • I am starting to wonder if the “bluish” whites of the eyes are what they call an “honest signal” of youth and fertility in young women. However I am not sure if it also occurs in young men. And it seems not to occur in all young women either.

        So, not sure.

        I suppose some “honest signals” could be real signs of fertility, even if they don’t occur in all women.

      • Or, alternatively, the real “signal” of youth, health and fertility is pristine “whites” with no discolouration and any bluish tinge from the Tyndall effect is only an epiphenomenon.

      • My 14 year old son seems to have the “bluish whites” effect fairly clearly, so it may well be a “young person” thing, not just a “young woman” thing.

  7. […] the phenomenon of “bluish” whites in the eyes of young people, especially young women, here, here and here. I think it is due to the optical effect known as the Tyndall […]

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  8. For those with Facebook access, this is a good example of a bluish sclera in a baby’s eye:

    Reply

  9. Alexandra Daddario, featured in this video, seems to have bluish sclerae (whites):

    Reply

  10. […] The whites of her eyes (the sclerae) seem have a slightly blue tinge. This phenomenon seems to occur in young women quite frequently. I have written about this at this blog previously. […]

    Reply

  11. […] of blueish colouration of the whites (sclerae) in some young women’s eyes, for example here. I am not sure about this example. She doesn’t show the effect in other photos, and maybe it […]

    Reply

  12. […] Why the “whites” of some young women’s eyes have a blue tinge […]

    Reply

  13. […] have written about this topic before. For example here. That is, the tendency for the sclerae (“whites”) in some young people’s eyes to […]

    Reply

  14. Posted by Julian O'Dea on October 22, 2016 at 9:09 am

    http://medicalxpress.com/news/2016-10-whites-eyes.html

    “Why we show the whites of our eyes”

    Reply

  15. […] I discuss what I think the science of this effect is here. […]

    Reply

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