The Colours of People

Everywhere you look, there are people. Different sizes, different shapes, different colours. And that’s pretty awesome.

But why do I have green eyes, my mum has blue and my dad has hazel?
Why is my hair a shade of browny blonde but my sisters is almost black?
And why oh why do I have to roast myself in the sun to get any form of tan that some people just have naturally??



All of the colour differences between people stems from pigments – any substance found within our cells which colours us in some sort of way.

It is the special kind of pigment, melanin which is to blame for any of your 3 major body colourings: eyes, hair & skin. 


Melanin is made within melanosomes which are found in cells called melanocytes.

Three important types of melanin include:

  1. Eumelanin = dark pigment 
  2. Phaeomelanin = light pigment 
  3. Neuromelanin = responsible for colouring regions of the brain – problems with neuromelanins are linked to Alzheimers and Parkinsons diseases.

The amount of these types of melanin we each get is determined genetically.




In our eyes, the melanin is found in the iris (the coloured part surrounding the pupil). The top layer of the iris is called the stroma and this is where those melanocytes are found.


More melanin will result in dark brown or black eyes. With over 55% of the world rocking them, brown eyes are the most popular eye colour.
Less melanin means blue, green or hazel eyes. Green eyes are the rarest in the world with approximately only 2% of the worlds population having them. 


In our skin, those melanocytes are commonly found in our deepest layer of skin, the basal layer. There are many factors which determine skin colour and it comes down to the size, distribution, shape and number of melanosomes plus how active the melanin within them is. It also takes into account the gene protein melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R).

redheadMore MC1R activity = more eumelanin, less phaeomelanin. 

Some people have sort-of faulty MC1R genes and they are likely to have red hair, pale skin and freckles. 

Very simply, if you have high amounts of eumelanin but low amounts of phaeomelanin, the resulting skin will be black or brown. If you have low amounts of eumelanin but high amounts of phaeomelanin, the resulting skin will be light (freckles are likely too). People with very little levels (or none at all) of both eumelanin & phaeomelanin will have extremely light skin, this is known as albinism.

What about tanning? The more you expose skin to ultra-violet (UV) rays from the sun, the more melanin the skin produces. This will result in darkening the skin and helps to protect skin from any more damage. sun
Back in the day when most people huddled around the equator, they got a whole lot of sunlight and therefore a whole lot of vitamin D too (from the UV radiation).
We need vitamin D to help prevent illness such as rickets or soft bones so when people started moving away from the sun and dispersing to different, darker parts of the world, their bodies began to compensate for this loss of sunlight and the resulting loss of vitamin D. This happened by lower levels of melanin being produced and the lightening of skin, so more sunlight would be able to be absorbed. 


When it comes to hair, I barely know whether to describe mine as brown, blonde, muddy blonde, light brown? Sometimes I see strands of red and sometimes strands of black? It’s a bit of an identity crisis situation. 

You see, just like out skin, hair contains eumelanin (dark pigment) and phaeomelanin (light pigment). The density and the dispersal of the different types of melanin and their pigments will also contribute to differing hair colours, which can also happen across the space of one head. 

There is brown eumelanin and black eumelanin. 
If only a small amount of brown eumelanin is present, the resulting hair colour is blonde. Larger amounts of eumelanin will produce brown, dark brown and black hair. 
For red-heads, phaeomelanin is the dominant pigment which people with dark hair also sometimes produce. However, the darkness of their hair, thanks to eumelanin, overpowers the light pigment. In my case where I see hair strands that are red, light brown, and blonde, it is likely due to some phaeomelanin being produced. Grey hair is when only a small amount of melanin remains in the hair while white hair is the complete absence of melanin.


There are so many variables in our hair, skin and eye colours and that makes a pretty cool world full of unique and interesting humans. We’ve heard it before, but really, if we all looked the same, the world would be a pretty boring place! 


The building blocks of rocks

Today I want to talk about my first love, rocks.
I studied rocks for three years. I got to see rocks, hold rocks, scratch rocks, memorise rocks. Sometimes I got to go on field trips and look at really, really big rocks.

Rocks are pretty great.

What’s also pretty great are the building blocks of rocks, minerals. 
Minerals are the natural crystalline structures found within rocks, and are used to interpret what kind of rock you’re looking at e.g. garnet, topaz, diamond.  They are solid structures made up of chemical bonds and there are around 4000 different kinds identified so far. Although it’s not generally the best way to identify a mineral as most minerals are white in their purest form, the colours of minerals can also be pretty exciting and draw people in. 


We learnt about wavelengths waaay back here and it’s the amount of absorption of these wavelengths which determines the colour of a mineral.

It is mostly atomic bonds within these minerals which do all the wavelength-absorbing.

Minerals consist of elements. For example, an extremely common mineral, quartz, has chemical composition SiO2 meaning it is composed of elements silicon (Si) and oxygen (O) bonded together.


A few elements contain electrons that like to absorb wavelengths as it is these wavelengths which provide them with a booster of energy – the amount of energy depends on which wavelength is absorbed. Bonding between different elements changes the amount of energy electrons have resulting in different colours. elements

Elements that can do this can have great influence over the colour of a mineral, even just the tiniest trace. It is also thought that almost any element could produce almost any colour.

Nickel (Ni) for example will taint minerals green as seen in annabergite

Uranium (U) will colour minerals yellow like in zippeite

Cobalt (Co) creates the violet/red colour in erythrite

Diagnosing a rock over the colours of the minerals can be pretty inaccurate. A more reliable test is that of streak. Finding the streak, or ‘powder colour’ of a mineral involves rubbing the mineral across a white, unglazed porcelain plate. The colour of the powder left on the plate is the streak. Up to 20% of minerals have streaks that are super useful in determining what mineral they are.

We can also describe rocks as mafic or felsic.
Mafic is the term used for rocks and minerals with high iron and magnesium content and generally give rocks a dark colour.
Felsic is used for rocks and minerals with high silica content and are generally light coloured. 

I loved my rocksstudies of rocks as they seem to have a story. Once you learnt the tricks, you can start to decipher the mysteries of what has happened to that rock. 
Finding diamonds in a rock tell you that it has been buried over 150km deep as diamonds only form under extremely high pressure. 
Finding halite (rock salt) is a indication of evaporation of fluid, possibly old brine lakes or seas. 

Next time you’re walking along a beach, have a little squizz at the rocks you see. If you look really close, you might be able to see little shiny different-coloured crystals of all sorts of different minerals which could end up telling you a really good story. 


Eating colour.

All of us eat, everyday. Some of us thrive off salads, kale chips and water whereas others of us keep our bellies full with donuts, biscuits and Fanta.


A major difference, although there are many, between these two kinds of diets is the amount of colour additives they contain.

Additives are sneaky little chemical substances which are added to foods to improve qualities of food such as their longevity, taste, or appearance. See an extensive list of additive jobs here.


Some colour additives are natural like ascorbic acid (vitamin C) which you can find in fruit. apple
Other additives are formed in chemical reactions like sorbitol (formed by chemically reducing glucose) and are not only used in your food but also products such as makeup. Mmm, tasty.

All additives must be tested and approved by the food safety organisations. In New Zealand, we have Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) keeping an eye on what goes into the foods we’re eating. This prevents people from ingesting too many additives which has the potential for adverse impacts on health.

Most packaged foods must be labelled with all ingredients including food additives.
However there are exceptions.

  • If additives were used in compound ingredients (ingredients of the final product which themselves consist of 2+ ingredients) and that compound ingredient makes up less than 5% of the final food product, the additives do not need to be identified. This is unless that additive has it’s own special purpose in the final food product.
  • Also, unpackaged foods e.g. apples or food in a package with a surface area smaller than 100cm2 do not need to list ingredients including additives.


All additives have an associated number to identify them – E numbers.
In the European Union, additive numbers have an E at the beginning of them but in Australia and New Zealand we’ve dropped that E and just go by numbers. The E100’s are mostly colour additives.

biscuitI just purchased a pack of Griffin’s Cookie Bear hundreds & thousands biscuits. Every now and then I treat myself to two biscuits and a cup of tea. Bliss. 

However I flipped the packet this morning and wanted to go on a hunt for some E-numbers (without the E).
The first 100 number I find: “natural colour (120)”. 

120 represents cochineal.

Cochineal I read, is a natural red colour obtained from egg yolks. Oh and DRIED INSECTS (?!?!)
It gives foods a nice, natural red colour…


Cochineal bug where colour is extracted from.

The other colour additives found in my delicious little nibbly biscuits:

  • 160bAnnatto = orange/peach colour naturally found in cheese/butter
  • 124Ponceau 4R = red synthetic coal tar dye
  • 110Sunset yellow = yellow synthetic coal tar dye
  • 122Carmoisine = red/purple synthetic coal tar dye
  • 133Brilliant blue = blue synthetic coal tar dye
  • 142Green S = green synthetic coal tar dye
  • 100Curcumin = orange/ yellow colour extracted from natural turmeric


Something about reading “coal tar dye” as part of the ingredients in my food didn’t sit right with me and I needed to investigate more…

Coal tar colours were first accidentally discovered in 1856 by William Henry Perkin from coal by-products, creating the colour mauve/ purple. This was the first synthetic, organic dye to be produced and thus the chemical industry of dyestuffs blossomed. Today, they are found in many foods, and a lot of makeup and pharmaceutical products.

By the 1960’s coal was no longer the main raw source of synthetic colours but the name coal tar dyes stuck.  Today, they are mostly synthesised from by-products of petroleum.

However, I’m really not sure which is better.

iceblockWhen I looked into what a ‘synthetic coal tar dye’ is, the first thing that popped up was telling me not to eat or use products containing them. Artificial food colourings are thought to have been linked to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children. In one study, they found six additives including 124, 110, 122 (found in my yummy biscuits) were especially problematic and should be removed from food. Researchers believe the removal of colour additives from foods could reduce the amount of children between 3 and 12 with ADHD by 30%.

lolliesSo we need to ask ourselves, do we want to be eating dried bugs, coal tar and petroleum? Do we want children to be buzzing off the walls all day, unfocused and forgetful? Should we really be eating foods that contain colour additives?

I’ll ponder it over my next cup of tea.


Karma karma karma chameleon

Today I watched an epic documentary about reptiles & amphibians. 
While watching said documentary, absorbing all the glorious David Attenborough narrations, all of the unbelievably epic shots and marvelling at a whole bunch of cold-blooded creatures, I saw the panther chameleon. 

Edging along a branch through the Madagascan forest, I was captivated. It’s pincer-like hands gripped around the branch as it crawled along, it’s individually rotating eyes looking 360° around itself. It looked so perfectly adapted to its environment, I was in awe. 

And then I realised.

Chameleons are colourful. 

My blog is about colours. 

I can write all about chameleons! 

I’m sure this will surprise you all when I say I’ve never really known a lot about chameleons or any sort of reptile for that matter, so we’ll be starting with the basics. 



  • A chameleon is a type of lizard, part of the suborder Iguania
  • With 171 different chameleon species, the majority of them are found in Madagascar 
  • The largest chameleons are over half a metre long (69.5cm)
  • The smallest chameleons can be only 16mm
  • The chameleon will continuously grow throughout it’s life
  • Chameleons eat insects and birds with an absolutely crazy tongue that can shoot out twice as far as its body length
  • They are 1 of only a small number of animals that can change the colour of their skin

Now this is where it gets interesting. It’s a common assumption that chameleons can just change their colour to match their surroundings. Scientists believed they changed colour in the same way that octopus or squid do by adjusting pigments in their skin cells to alter colours. 

However, it doesn’t work quite like that. 

Chameleons change the colour of their chameleoncellskin in response to their emotions or environmental factors like light or temperature. More recent research has discovered they do it by changing the actual structure of their uppermost layer of skin cells called iridophores. 

These iridophores contain nano-crystals (made up of guanine, one of the key components of DNA) which will determine the colour of Chameleons skin. 
When these nano-crystals are all close together, the chameleon is in a relaxed state. Because of this closeness, only small wavelengths such as blue or green are reflected from the cells and that is the colour we see the chameleon as. (To read about different wavelengths of colours click here).

When a chameleon gets amped up, say if a rival comes along, the chameleon will stretch his skin. This spreads these nano-crystals apart from each other and will consequently reflect colours of longer wavelengths such as yellow, orange and red

Beneath this fascinating upper layer of cells is another, thicker layer of skin cells. Scientists believe it is this secondary layer of cells which help to maintain the temperature of the chameleon as the cells found here reflect near-infrared sunlight. 

However, all this cool skin cell stuff going on, only really happens in male chameleons. Female and babies are generally dull colours as they don’t need to be competing with rival chameleons therefore their upper layer of iridophores is greatly reduced in comparison.

To conclude one of my favourite blogs to write so far, chameleons are pretty amazing creatures. For more interesting info on chameleons check out these resources:

The Happiest 5km Run

Three years ago, I participated in the first Colour Run in New Zealand.

The proof follows.


Also known as “The Happiest 5k”, you run/ walk/ skip/ jump/ crawl  your way around a track with periodically positioned stations of “colour” (powdered corn-starch) that gets thrown all over you. 

It truly is the happiest 5km run. You end up a walking rainbow, you’re not sweaty because you’re not really running, you’re rolling on the ground in coloured powder and you finish with a big smile on your face. Nothing could be better. 

So what were the reasons for creating such a fun run?

Apart from making some moolah of course, The Colour Runs – which are now found across the world from South America to United Arab Emirates – encourages people of any age and ability to be healthy AND happy. They even have a “Finish Festival” for everyone to dance it out and as stated on their website “release a few more endorphins”. 

You see, running or most workouts for that matter, encourage the release of endorphins. 

Endorphins = “any of a group of hormones secreted within the brain and nervous system and having a number of physiological functions. They are peptides which activate the body’s opiate receptors, causing an analgesic effect.” 

In other words… Endorphins are chemicals released from your brain which make you feel awesome, relaxed and take away pain. We like endorphins. 



Endorphins are neurotransmitters. This means they actually move through gaps in between neurons (cells in your nervous system) and help deliver messages from one neuron to the next. 

They then join up to opioid receptors which are found all throughout your body but most notably in the nervous system along with endorphins. There are at least 17 opioid receptors and the best known 3 are mu, kappa & delta.

This joining of endorphins and opioid receptors can ultimately stop other nasty molecules (tachykinins) from being released.  A special type of tachykinin called substance P is in charge of transmitting pain and involved in inflammatory body reactions – not what you want being released. 


Some people may experience an endorphin rush from eating chocolate or even if they talk to a stranger. It’s letting you know you’ve had enough, but that you should definitely come back to it again, because it made you feel good. 

The same happens in runners, endorphins (mimicked by drugs like morphine and heroine) give you a rush of pleasure that helps ease the pain of those rubbing blisters, the aching muscles, your tired legs. After your run, you feel awesome, experience “runners high” and decide you want to go for another run tomorrow because it made you feel so good and accomplished. 

Endorphins are the bodies natural way of feeling high and euphoric without the need for drugs. Drugs do give off the same feelings, but also come with a whole lot of other issues and much more baggage. 

No wonder The Colour Run leaves people wanting more. 

  1. You’re exercising (encouraging the release of endorphins)
  2. You’re interacting with people, many of whom are strangers (also likely encouraging the release of endorphins)
  3. You’re most likely with friends or family who generally speaking should be making you feel happy anyway
  4. You’re surrounded by colour, and as we saw in my last 2 blogs (here and here), colours can make you feel pretty darn great!


I’m a blue, what are you?

Although the scientific data is hard to come by, the psychology of colours is something that surrounds us. People have created businesses, websites, you name it based on these beliefs that colours either enhance or encourage certain emotions.

For some, the wavelengths of colours have been involved in connecting them to emotions.

As we know from Newton’s famous colour experiment, all of the different colours have different angles of refraction:

The angle formed by a refracted ray or wave and a line perpendicular to the refracting surface at the point of refraction.”


The colours also have different wavelengths:

“Light is measured by its wavelength (in nanometers). One wavelength equals the distance between two successive wave crests or troughs.”



The colour with the longest wavelength is red at around 665nm. This quality is said to therefore make it a powerful colour. 

Psychology wise, red:

  • Is said to increase your heart rate + blood pressure
  • Encourages positive feelings of warmth, excitement, love and passion
  • Also represents negative feelings of hate, violence and domination
  • In Chinese & Indian cultures red signifies good luck 

People with red personality type are said to be energetic, passionate people who love attention. They dream big and word hard tomakes those dreams a reality. Working the best with and around other people, red personalities are competitive and original.



The yellow wavelength is also long at around 600nm and creates an emotional stimulus. Yellow, like Goethe thought, is said to be the most psychologically strong colour.

Psychology wise, yellow:

  • Can stimulate mental processes and activate memory
  • Encourages positive feelings of joy, energy, inspiration and friendship
  • Also represents negative feelings of uncertainty, caution and fear
  • In Egyptian culture, yellow is symbolic of prosperity 

wavelength yellow
People with the yellow personality type are energetic and fun people to be around. They are extremely independent people who dream up big dreams but sometimes lack the focus to make these dreams real. Yellow personalities prefer a smaller group of friends and prefer mental tasks like puzzles to physical ones.



The wavelength of green is around 550nm, situating it in the centre of the spectrum. This gives green the colour of balance.

Psychology wise, green:

  • Is said to stimulate your pituitary gland and decrease allergy symptoms
  • Encourages positive feelings of freedom, generosity, youth and health
  • Also represents negative feelings of laziness, envy and frankness
  • In religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, the heart chakra is represented as green


People with green personality type are thought to be the most sincere types of people. They are very open, honest and can see the bigger picture. With great manners and good-timing they can read people well and therefore have large social networks and are supportive, loyal friends to have.



The blue wavelength isn’t anything too special at around 470nm. However blue is the most liked colour across the world. 

Psychology wise, blue:

  • Is said to make food less appetising if eaten off a blue plate as well as lower blood pressure and the rate of your pulse
  • Encourages feelings of goodness, stability, loyalty, acceptance and cleanliness
  • Also represents negative feelings of despair, depression and isolation
  • Blue is the colour of the United Nations Flagwavelengthblue

People with the blue personality type are ultimately looking for peace. They very much value routine and familiarity but work extremely well as both an employee and employer. They enjoy having lots of friends and value both friends and family highly making them reliable and trustworthy people to have around.



The colour with the shortest wavelength is violet (purple) at around 400nm and it’s also the last visible wavelength before ultra-violet rays. This is said to create associations with time, space & the universe.

Psychology wise, purple:

  • Is calming and can increase feelings if spirituality and reduce anxiety
  • Encourages positive feelings of creativity, ambition, wisdom and luxury
  • Also represents negative feelings of grief, solitude, vanity and secrecy 
  • In Ancient cultures, purple represented wealth and in Catholicism purple is representative of Lent

People with purple personality type are generally more introverted people who are creative and like to dream. They like to be different from other people and are very giving people and like to see the best in everyone. Purple personalities are gentle and intuitive people. 

To delve more into what colour your personality is, you can take a test!
Just scroll on down and click on the big red “START TEST” button!

I got blue, what are you?


I admit, I am a sucker for finding information that can “match” my personality to colours, songs, breeds of puppies and celebrities, my star sign, you name it. 

However, I don’t truly believe that in spirit I am in fact a golden retriever nor do I need to define myself as a colour. 

This is a blog which investigates the psychological traits that are matched to colours as there is a MULTITUDE of resources out there which do it. It’s a bit of fun, it’s fascinating and there is a little bit of science to it! 


As we know, colour surrounds us. It’s everywhere, inescapable, only until night comes and swallows it up, to let the sun come up the next morning and re-gift us all of the colours. 
Could these all-encompassing colours have such an impact on our day-to-day lives? On how we feel? On who we are?

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe seemed to think so. He also seemed to be the only person in town who didn’t quite believe in any of Newton’s ideas on colour. 



“A great mathematician was possessed with an entirely false notion on the physical origin of colours”

“The theory of colours… has suffered much, and it’s progress has been incalculably retarded by having been mixed up with optics generally”

While Newton had very physics-based ideas on colours (read about them here), in 1810, Goethe (an author and politician) took a much more psychological route to explaining colours and although his ideas were dismissed by…. well, everyone, Goethe still had interesting ideas. 

Goethe’s version of science was less focused on experiments, but more about his own personal observations. As a poet, a man of art, he thought having previous physical knowledge would be a hindrance to learning about light and colours.

He created his own colour wheel which he divided in half, one side being Positive and the other Negative. Only when one colour from each opposite side was chosen, would colour harmony occur. He used this wheel of colours to link them with human emotions.

The Positive Side:


1yellowGoethe really liked yellow. In fact, he apparently owned twenty yellow waistcoats. It is “the colour nearest the light” and could be so easily tainted or contaminated by other colours. He linked emotions of serenity, happiness and saw yellow as “softly exciting”


Red-yellow in Goethes eyes represented the deeper darker part of a fire. From this metaphor, he associated it with warmth, and happiness.


Yellow-red he noted, “seems actually to penetrate the organ”. By this he meant, it makes people feel extremely excited, similar to the way an animal is enraged by a [yellow]red cloth, it inflames people from within. 

The Negative Side:


On the opposite side of his wheel, Goethe said blue has “a peculiar and almost indescribable effect on the eye”. It encourages feelings of darkness and coldness he thought, however it also brings emotions of tranquility and rest. 


Similar to the way in which yellow changes into red-yellow, Goethe saw red-blue as a colour which begins to become more active compared to blue alone. However, rather than exciting somebody, Goethe interpreted red-blue (or lilac) as a colour which could be found more disturbing. 


Red is a powerful colour. To Goethe, lighter hues of red expressed grace and eloquence while darker shades command respect and portray heaviness. 


If a green hue is mixed by yellow and blue perfectly, Goethe states it will create a perfect, calming, harmonious colour for the eyes to ease over with the viewer having “neither the wish nor the power to imagine a state beyond it“. 


Colours don’t belong with emotions as such, yet humans have always seemed to link the two together. A study published in 2001 undertaken on preschool aged children aimed to prove that even kids as young as three, relate colours with emotions.

It was found that yes, by age three, most kids would associate bright colours like yellow with happiness. This also goes for adults. Darker colours such as blue and purple were associated with sad facial expressions and emotions. These dark colours are viewed as low in arousal and therefore might encourage the relation to sadness. By age 10, children are also connecting black to sadness and red to anger. 

So, it seems that although there really is not much of a reason to, human brains have been connecting colours and emotions for a very long time.

My next blog looks more into this topic and at an ever-so-slightly more scientific approach to this idea!