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Why Do Athletes Wear Eye Black?
AP Photo/Chris O'Meara

From the MLB to the NFL, softball to baseball players, and even lacrosse to football players – everyone wears eye black. And why shouldn’t they? Eye black is badass.

The two black smudges do more than help athletes don a battle mask in the ritual dance of modern competitive athletics.

The cheek ink is useful when combined with a forward-facing baseball cap (or helmet!) and a pair of fresh Oakleys. The tar’s effectiveness has been known anecdotally for ages and recently confirmed in labs.

But is Man Mascara right for you? Abso-freaking-lutely.

What is Eye Black?

Eye black grease is made of paraffin, petroleum jelly, beeswax, and carbon. Eye black stickers are made of paper and various adhesives. The stickers don’t work as well, but more on that in a second.

Eye blacks found their first iteration in 1930s America. A man named Andy Farkas (Hungarian for “Wolf“) was hungry like a Farkas for football. He loved the game but hated that darn annoying sun getting in his eyes.

Unable to locate a pair of shades or a proper helmet, Farkas searched far and wideout for relief. Wolfman finally settled for burnt cork as an applicator and rubbed it on his upper cheekbones. The rest, they say, is sports history.

These days, you can leave your cork unsinged. Blocking out the sun is as easy as grabbing an eye black stick and simply rubbing it on your far-too-reflective face.

How Does It Work?

RELATED: Softball vs. Baseball: 6 Differences Answering ‘Which Sport is Harder?’

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Eye black does more than just act as surrogate war paint, but that doesn’t stop people from profiting on the suggestion.

Eye black works via sun’s glare reduction. Bright lights reduce your eyeball’s contrast sensitivity. Darkening your cheekbones with a black smudge absorbs light, reducing glare to your pupils. The reduced glare increases your contrast sensitivity, thus (slightly) improving your vision.

More contrast equals a better picture for your brain to process. And let’s end the explanation right there.

Eye black isn’t complicated. Human image processing is.

But Does It Really Work?

Depends on who you ask. And which type you use.

Dr. Brian M. DeBroff, Yale’s foremost expert on the gunk, says anti-glare stickers don’t do much. In the vein of bumper stickers, anti-glare adhesives are more for you than other people.

If you want to use a non-toxic smear of carbon as sports eye black to reduce glare from sunlight exposure or stadium lights, then go for it!

The science is simple, at least according to Dr. DeBroff and colleague Patricia Pahk. Light reflects off your big ol’ cheekbones. Darker pigments absorb rays better than lighter tones. Putting dark pigments on your face will absorb light better than your face, reflecting fewer rays into your eyes. It’s very simple now that I’ve completely over-simplified it.

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The MythbustersUniversity of New Hampshire, and Yale Professors agree – eye black makes a difference. How big of a difference it makes seems up for debate. The science checks out, but does the real value of the stuff lie in ritual? S

uch questions are for philosophers to debate. Put on your boy make-up and play ball!

Where Can I Buy Eye black?

If you’re looking for the best eye black that’s high quality and in stock, check out some of the major sports retailers carried in New York: Easton and Rawlings are popular makers. Any sporting goods or sports & outdoors store carries the paint as well, including Franklin Sports.

At the end of the day, we know you can buy anything on Amazon.

Amazon

MORE: How Much Do MLB Umpires Make?

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Daniell Marlow is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He lives to write and writes to eat. Daniell is a Georgia Bulldog with a California Shih-Tzu.
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