A true pink wavelength of light doesn't exist, but does this mean that pink isn't a color? Vera Larina/Shutterstock

Forget flamingos, cherry blossoms, and bundles of candy floss. We hate to break it to you, but pink isn't a real color, at least not in the way you might think.

Start by thinking of the color spectrum. Visible light – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet – is the chunk of the electromagnetic spectrum that our eyes are able to perceive. Unlike most colors we come across, we cannot represent pink with a single frequency of light. There is no P in ROYGBIV. It’s not quite red, but it’s certainly not violet. Instead, it’s a combination of a few wavelengths.

If you are gazing at a big ball of pink bubblegum, you are a not simply experiencing a bunch of pink light wavelengths hitting the back of your eyeball. You are witnessing a splurge of different reflected wavelengths, primarily red and white, which your brain is piecing together and perceiving as pink.

So, a true pink wavelength of light doesn't exist, but does this mean that pink isn't a color?

A typical human eye will respond to wavelengths from about 369 to 769 nanometers. seagritsalak karalak/Shutterstock

"Of course pink is a color," Jill Morton, an expert in color theory and color psychology, told Popular Science in 2012, "but with that said, pink is indeed not part of the light spectrum. It's an extra-spectral color, and it has to be mixed to generate it."

If you’re sticking to the rules of the electromagnetic spectrum, it might be more accurate to call pink “a tint of red”. As you can see in the image below, our perception of color is not as simple as a linear spectrum, it also involves tints (added light values) and shades (added dark values). By adding tints to red, we lighten the color, as well as shift it towards the blue end of the spectrum and endow it with a different quality. We call this quality "pink".

The visible light spectrum with tints (added light values) and shades (added dark values). Alhovik/Shutterstock

This is where stuff will start to sound like a stoned guy teaching a philosophy class for beginners and clumsily opening up a can of metaphysical worms. But hey, here we go: Do we define a color by slapping a label on the sensation in our brain? When we think of it like this, all "colors" – indeed, all sensations – are just abstractions based on interpretations of the body and mind that can't exist outside of the visual system.

"Color is not actually a property of light or of objects that reflect light, it is a sensation that arises within the brain," biologist Timothy H Goldsmith explains in a Scientific American article in 2006.  

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