The eyes have it: Study shows glare-busting grease works

Special to The Times

From the Little League field to professional football stadiums, the black smudges under athletes’ eyes seem like part of the standard uniform. But do they really cut glare, as players attest, or are they just part of an aggressive game face?

Dr. Brian M. DeBroff had long wondered, so the vice chairman of ophthalmology and visual sciences at Yale University conducted a study.

“We went in thinking that eye black grease was simply psychological war paint, and that it wouldn’t have an effect,” DeBroff said. “We were surprised to learn it did.”


What didn’t help players see better, however, were antiglare patches sold in sporting goods stores as a smear-proof alternative to eye-black grease.

In his study, DeBroff and his colleagues gathered 46 participants between the ages of 18 and 30. Using a contrast sensitivity chart, participants were tested for their ability to discern contrasts in sunny conditions. Then they were divided into three groups. One group wore eye black grease. A second wore antiglare patches, and the third had petroleum jelly rubbed under their eyes as a placebo.

Eye black grease was found to be “statistically superior” to the control group and to antiglare stickers, the authors wrote. “These results suggest that black eye grease does in fact have antiglare properties, whereas antiglare stickers and petroleum jelly do not.”

Blackening the skin just below the eyes dates back at least to 1942, when a photo taken during a Washington Redskins football game showed Andy Farkas wearing what were probably smudges of burnt cork beneath his eyes. Today, the dark rings are de rigueur in sports such as football and baseball, in which players have to distinguish fast-moving objects while looking into the sun or the glare of stadium lights.

The study was published in the July issue of Archives of Ophthalmology.