Why do NFL players paint under their eyes?

The black stripes under the eyes of NFL players, reminiscent of war paint, can make them look quite intimidating. But its use may not only be cosmetic.

Why do NFL players paint under their eyes?

NFL players with paint under their eyes are a common sight on the football field. The eye black sets the mood in the stadium by helping them look like warriors ready to do battle.

But aside from making them look badass, it actually has a practical purpose- to keep the sun from their eyes so they can see that flying football or a coach’s signal more clearly.

Professional football players have used eye black grease for decades in the belief that it deflects sunlight and harsh stadium lights. Bright lights can lessen an athlete’s visual capacity, and impede the perception of detail. They also diminish the eye’s sensitivity to contrast, which players need to better see a fast-moving object.

Different eye black styles

Eye black is available in different forms, the most popular of which is the roll-on. With this product, the grease is applied directly on the skin. Another is the stick-on strip, which rose in popularity because it does not smear. The sticky adhesive at the back is what adheres to the skin, but this makes it prone to falling off due to sweat.

The stick-on strips have also been customized by players with messages to promote a cause, sometimes getting them fined in the process.

According to, a company that develops and sells the product, “one of the strongest reflectors of light is one’s own skin, particularly the area under the eye.” They say that when light hits the cheek, it creates a distracting glare that causes one to squint.

During a football game, squinting would reduce the player’s vision range and could ultimately lead to the loss of a game- thus the “need” for black paint, which lessens glare.

Eye black grease's effect on vision

But let’s not take their word for it- after all. they make money from marketing the stuff and touting its benefits. A study by the ophthalmology department of the Yale School of Medicine found that “eye black grease does appear to have anti-glare properties.”

There was approximately one level of sensitivity improvement for those who used the grease compared to those who didn’t. However, the study clarified that anti-glare stickers do not have the same effect.

Whether this increase in vision is significant enough to make or break a game is difficult to determine. One thing that’s certain about eye black though, is that it can help make a player look intimidating, determined to win, and pretty darned cool.