In our last episode of Lacrosse Mythbusters, we asked if eye black was just fashion or if there was some actual function involved too. We didn’t truly understand what was going on with the product, but it certainly started some serious conversation. Some said it was just “the warrior look”, while others swore that eye black actually works. So what did we do? We checked with a scientist.
Dr. Brian M. DeBroff, of Yale, had been interested by the concept of eye black, and decided to do an independent study on whether or not it actually worked. He found that it could be effective but this information didn’t cause his interest in his eye black to die down, in fact, it did just the opposite.
Dr. DeBroff was then approached by Farkas Eye Black with the hope that he could help them make the MOST effective eye black possible. From there, Dr. DeBroff eventually became their scientific advisor and an investor in Farkas. We got the chance to speak with Dr. DeBroff about eye black, how it works, and what the future might hold for this product.
How does eye black really work? Are we talking about absorbing more light than the skin? Reflecting less light? Does it keep beads of sweat from forming under the eyes? What’s the science behind eye black?
The reported function is similar to that of the natural masks found on wolves, (side note: “Farkas”, as in Andy Farkas the first player to wear it in the NFL, is Hungarian for Wolf) badgers, and even killer whales. It is thought to reduce reflected glare into athletes’ eyes from the cheekbone by absorbing incident light with its dark pigment.
What defines the optimal formula of eye black? How has the formula changed over the years?
Eye black grease is made from a mixture of beeswax, paraffin, and carbon.
I have worked with the Farkas family to help them develop the precise adjustment of concentrations of paraffin, petroleum, beeswax, black and zinc oxide, and talc that was ascertained to achieve a durable product that improves visual performance.
Over the years, players have used different substances from shoe polish to burnt cork.
Is there a location on the face where eye black works best? Would using MORE eye black (i.e. large triangles on your cheeks vs. a straight line) actually make a difference?
The cheekbone itself reduces glare by reflecting light away from the eye socket. Placing a pigment on top of the cheekbone could theoretically absorb more light. Farkas Eye Black and I are currently planning future studies to help elucidate the best location and material for maximal improvement of contrast sensitivity.
Does it work with the sun only, or does it also work at night under stadium lights?
Scattered light (Sun or Stadium) degrades contrast sensitivity by splashing extra, noninformation-containing light onto the retinal image and reducing the contrast of the image.
LIGHT DAMAGES eye structures as a result of the physical phenomenon of energy transmission. Light also has a psychophysical component that affects the quality of vision. Scattering of light can produce glare, which in turn can lead to visual disability. Athletes are particularly challenged by the effects of light radiation and glare. Glare from sunlight or stadium lighting impairs an athlete’s contrast sensitivity and impairs the ability to see detail if the light source is from elsewhere in the visual field.
Why don’t the stickers work? Could an eye black sticker ever work if it were made of the right stuff?
In summary, we found eye black grease to be statistically superior to control and to antiglare stickers in 3 situations. There was a statistically significant difference between eye black grease and antiglare stickers in binocular testing. There was also a statistically significant difference between the control and eye black grease in binocular testing and in the combined data from the right and left eyes. Based on this study, eye black grease appears to be more than psychological war paint. These results suggest that eye black grease does in fact have antiglare properties, whereas antiglare stickers and petroleum jelly do not. Perhaps the mixture of wax and carbon in eye black grease is superior for reducing reflected light than is the fabric material in antiglare stickers.
Where did the idea for eye black come from? How has glare reduction evolved over the years?
The first known glare-reducing devices were made by Eskimos from Alaska, Canada, and Siberia approximately 2000 years ago. Ivory or wooden goggles with horizontal slots effectively allowed peripheral vision while blocking out light reflected by snow and ice. The Chinese used colored transparent pebbles gathered from riverbeds for protection. The earliest recorded use of “sports sunglasses” is attributed to Nero, who viewed gladiators through an emerald. More recently, Tuberville, a 15th-century English ophthalmologist, prescribed silk veils for his post-operative patients complaining of photophobia, and, in 1886, the mail order company Sears, Roebuck, and Company began to offer sunglasses.
Wow. That’s some pretty cool history on the subject, Doc! Thanks! We appreciate you taking the time out to speak with us!
Now here’s a great PSA video from Farkas and Jim Leonhard of the New York Jets! Athletes Against Stickers! Ha! Very creative and funny!