Dear Scott: My hair is turning gray. I want it to be the silver color of gray, but it is mousey brown with gray in it. How long before it will be silver? My friend has white hair, and I was hoping mine would turn white like hers, but it has not. How many shades of gray will it turn before going white?

Answer: Gray hair is actually only three colors – white, gray and charcoal. There are not 50 shades of gray hair, so you will not be descending down a ladder of multiple shades of gray.

You probably had light brown hair before it turned mousey. Light brown hair will turn a basic gray color. Many clients refer to it as the “ugly color of gray.” Over time the gray hair has mixed evenly throughout your head giving the appearance of a little field mouse. Unfortunately, “mousey” heads are not the ones that tend to turn silver.

Silver foxes usually acquire their admired locks at a younger age. This is better known as turning prematurely gray. Silver hair color is actually a mix of gray and white. The two colors combined are what give the illusion of silver.

Dark-haired people are more likely to acquire the salt-and-pepper look. Salt-and-pepper is a mix of white and charcoal. As the pigment cells in the hair follicle gradually dissipate, the hair shaft has less color. The dark hair will then look charcoal. The white hair is the salt, and the charcoal is the pepper.

Silver foxes and the salt-and-pepper people can both look stunning. Everything else is just hair with gray in it, making you look older and unkempt. There is good news though. I have stuff.

Dear Scott: Why does hair turn gray?

Answer: There are many theories as to why this happens. Most of my research inevitably turns ups with scientific facts that are ambiguous, but here goes.

Hair is actually transparent. The addition of melanin pigment is what makes the hair appear to have color. Melanin is also responsible for the color that you see in your eyes and skin. As we get older, there is a decrease in the amount of melanin produced by the body.

The body also produces a low level of hydrogen peroxide around the follicle of the hair that is normally broken down by an enzyme called tyrosinase. As the body ages, the peroxide levels go up as the enzyme decreases. Gray is the result of the hair becoming more transparent as the melanin dissipates.

Stress, age and genetics are just a few answers to the question “Why does the hair turn gray?” But my preferred response is “Because you are not coloring it.”

Follow Scott Terwilliger Vital Image on Facebook or email for questions and contact information.