Skip to main content
By Dr Angelo Appiotti

The Colors We Cannot See

By 15 November 2021No Comments

The Colors We Cannot See
He’s such in a black mood today! This is what we would most probably say of someone who seems to be down, gloomy or depressed. We also say that someone ‘sees everything in black and white’ when describing a person who is not able to appreciate the gray areas in life. On the other hand, we use the word ‘colorful’ to mean pleasant, amusing, varied. And there is a reason for that: our reaction to colors stems from those that are present in nature and from the impact they have on our lives. This was especially true in the past when man was much more exposed to weather events and natural phenomena.
Sight is our most important sense and colors are one of the greatest joys in life. They can heal us or cheer us up, they decorate our homes and they can even make us more aware of the flow of time and seasons. Yet, not everyone can see all colors, we do not see colors in the same way, and not all existing colors are visible to the human eye.

The Visible Spectrum
This almost poetic term describes the range of wavelengths that are visible to the human eye, i.e. those between 400 and 700 nm. Through the joint effort of rod cells (for black, white and shades of gray) and cone cells (for all other colors), we are able to identify up to one hundred million colors. Still, some of us will probably see many more. If you would like to find out how many shades of color you can see, try and take the color test created by Diana Derval. It may look just like a game, but it is very interesting.

How Men and Women See Colors
It may seem like a commonplace, but bear in mind that all clichés contain a grain of truth: women can differentiate more colors than men, probably also because they know how to name those! As Valentina Dentato writes in one of her articles, “Several studies have shown that women have a much larger vocabulary than men when describing colors and can memorize them more easily, whereas men tend to group them up under a single name. There where a man would only see ‘violet’, a woman will distinguish eggplant, plum, indigo, wisteria, lilac, lavender and fuchsia.” Both a genetic predisposition and the role played by hormones in the perception of brightness are probably responsible for this difference. However, as is often the case, the difference is neither stark nor well defined. It is rather a question of shades, but also of attention, pleasure, training and experience.

Daltonism
Genes also play a role in color perception in people suffering from daltonism, also known as color blindness, a defective perception of colors due to the inability to distinguish certain hues in the visible spectrum. Color blindness is mostly a genetic disorder. Men are more likely to inherit it as the genes responsible for it are carried on the X chromosome. Although more rarely, traumas, maculopathy and crystalline opacity may all lead to daltonism. While there is no cure for color blindness, it can be corrected using lenses that filter out specific wavelength bands.

Armocromia or Color Analysis
Finally, let me take the liberty to talk about a relatively new color matching trend. It is called ‘armocromia’ and it consists in finding an ideal color palette for outfits based on our natural skin, eye and hair color. The reason I mention this is because the more we take care of our eyes, the easier it will be for us to distinguish as many colors as possible, to appreciate the way a certain tint lightens up a face we love or to match colors among them and use them to complement our life events. So don’t put off your eye exam! If you can improve your eyesight with a laser treatment, now is the time!