Gray skin and red eyes is a common look for Dark Elves, and I have a similar race in my own world. But what would physically cause such an appearance?

Hard Requirements:

  1. Must not be the result of severe life-altering disease or require extreme deviation from normal human biology.
  2. Must be true gray, not purple or dark brown or something.

soft requirements:

  1. Should be permanent and inheritable, not just a temporary state or tattoos.
  2. Should not cause bizarre texture or scaly/rocky look. The gray people should be potentially pretty, because otherwise they'd be called goblins, not elves.

I've had a thought that my gray people are gray because, like an elephant or dolphin, their skin is thicker and so fewer blood vessels show through. EDIT: I've now been informed that elephants and rhinos have gray pigmentation. I wasn't aware such things existed. Would that cause them to look excessively wrinkly or chubby or sandy though?

Another possible explanation is that they ingest something that makes their skin grey, much like argyria. However, that particular condition actually makes the skin more shiny purple than gray. I'm not aware of a condition that makes you gray like Dark Elves, that doesn't also kill you.

So these guys don't really look like the glamorous but grim dark elves that we want in fantasy, but it's halfway there. I know how to satisfy the hard requirements, but not the soft ones.

I was originally going to also ask about red-to-yellow eyes, but they're covering that over in How would red eyes occur in a human (without underlying medical conditions)?


1 Answer 1


I can think of two explanations for your grey-skinned people.

The first is the obvious explanation. They have a pigmentation that is grey. Just because we don't see this manifestation in our population doesn't mean that there isn't an organic compound that can produce the effect.

The other explanation is that they have two forms of pigmentation -- one black and one white -- that populate their skin in a uniform distribution at a specific ratio. In short, their skin is pixelated with tiny black and white dots. When viewed from a distance, the human (or elven) eye will see this as grey. The ratio of black and white dots determines the darkness of the grey since not all individuals may have the same shading.

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The hairless guinea pig sporting its 'grey' skin

  • $\begingroup$ Do you have a specific example of gray pigment, preferably in a mammal's skin? From what I can glean, gray occurs in animals as sort of a structural color. Gray hairs in humans are like that because they're growing in thinner and weaker. Gray skin in other mammals that I'm aware of seems to be from the sheer thickness of the flesh blocking any red from coming out. I'm not aware of any specific thing that can be added to otherwise normal human skin to make it gray. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 10, 2019 at 20:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Maddock Emerson, Gray hair is the absence of pigmentation in hair cells. It is commonly associated with aging but can exist in some people from birth. Elephants and Rhino's both have grey pigmentation. $\endgroup$
    – EDL
    Commented Sep 10, 2019 at 21:16
  • $\begingroup$ Really? I thought it was a structural effect. Wonder where I got that idea. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 10, 2019 at 21:29

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