Football players will wear eye black to reduce the glare from a stadium’s lights or the sunshine, allowing them to track the football easier and improve the contrast between the colors of the team’s jerseys. While it can provide minimal improvement in a player’s vision, many simply wear it for the intimidating aesthetic or because they think it looks good.
I wore eye black a few times as a high school quarterback and outfielder. Whether it made a marked improvement in my performance is hard to say, and any benefit was likely pretty minimal. But I have to admit I thought I looked really cool when I was wearing it.
Does science support the theory that the eye black can reduce glare and improve a player’s vision? In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the research behind the substance and one of my favorite players who first popularized its usage to intimidate opponents back in the 90s.
- Eye black is used to reduce glare and improve a player’s ability to track the ball under stadium lights or bright sunshine
- Several studies have proven that some eye black concoctions can improve a player’s vision in bright conditions
- But the overall effect is minimal, and many players simply chose to wear it in an attempt to intimidate their opponents
How Does Eye Black Work?
Eye black has been used for hundreds of years to enhance people’s vision on sunny days. Today, eye black is most commonly made of a combination of beeswax, paraffin, and charcoal. There are also “stickers” that can be applied that are made of a black fabric that has a matte finish meant to reduce glare. 
Bright lights or direct exposure to the sun can reduce the eye’s ability to contrast between colors and pick out objects due to the increased glare which causes your pupils to contract. Eye black placed beneath the eyes on the cheekbones absorbs these compromising rays by drawing them from the eyes.
This increased contrast makes objects like a football or baseball stand out better. Even in domed stadiums, wearing eye black can reduce the glare from stadium lights. 
Certainly part of the appeal of eye black is also the aesthetics. It just looks cool and can appear intimidating, giving the wearer more confidence. 
Sometimes you’ll see players with eye black covering both of their cheeks and other parts of their faces too. This “war paint” layout doesn’t have a functional purpose, it just looks cool!
Growing up, my favorite player to don an absurd amount of face paint was John Randle, a defensive lineman for the Minnesota Vikings. As a smaller lineman who was known for his charisma and boisterous (sometimes fearful) personality, the war paint complemented Randle’s play style perfectly.
How Effective is Eye Black?
The effectiveness of these various eye-black concoctions is mixed. Studies conducted at the University of New Hampshire and Yale have concluded that the beeswax, paraffin, and charcoal mix do reduce glare and enhance the wearer’s eyesight to some extent. However, other mixtures of petroleum jelly or adhesives with a matte finish had no noticeable effect on glare reduction.
While the researchers were surprised to find that eye black was useful for something besides a psychological component, the overall effect of the substance on the cheeks has a minimal advantage at best. 
For the most part, eye black isn’t as effective as many players believe. But there’s no denying how cool it looks, and sometimes the mental benefit of feeling like you look good and intimidating can be just as beneficial. It certainly doesn’t hurt your performance, and wearing it either indoors or outdoors can have some minimal advantages outside of the war paint component.
Have you ever worn eye black before? Could you notice a difference in how well you could see? Let us know in the comments below.