Nail Polish History 101: Evolution of Manicure Over the Years

We’re going to talk about the history of nail polish today. Here’s why: we take a lot of things for granted nowadays without knowing the hard work put into making the item or how things used to be like for the previous era when things weren’t so great.


History of Nail Polish

history of nail polish

If you read some of our previous articles before, you might have stumbled upon the nail polish fact that one of the first few items that can be considered as nail polish was founded in China, back in 3000 B.C. or so. We sure have gone a long way!

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The First Nail Polish

man wore nail polish first in history

Guess what? The first nail polish was not from China! China was the second country to have come up with them. The first people to wear nail polish were, in fact, men! Around 3200 B.C. in Babylon, the soldiers wore green nails or black kohl on their nails as part of their war paint to intimidate their opponents. However, soon after, nail painting became part of their pre-battle rituals.


China’s History With Nail Polish

china's history with nail polish

These nail polish in China were more suited to be called as nail stains. They were made from beeswax, egg whites, gelatin, and some natural dyes from flowers such as orchids and roses.


Almost 2,400 years later, the trend of beautiful nails has grown so much that long nails decorated with gems and precious gems became a status statement for the wealthy. Long nails symbolized these ladies’ lack of hard labor since they can have servants doing everything for them.


Cleopatra’s Nail Polish History

cleopatra nail polish history

We all know Cleopatra as one of the most well-known Egypt queens around 50B.C. Her beauty regime extends well beyond her clothes and hair – growing to involve blood red nails from plant extracts. She was the first in the region to apply these nails colors instead of covering her entire hands like how a henna design would.

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The Nails Industry

nails industry

Yet another historical moments for manicures and nail polish, France opened the first nail salon in the 1870’s. While this particular store did not put colors on their clients’ nails, the salon workers cleaned them and buffed them up with creams, powders and tinted oils – giving it a polished appearance.

Yes, this was how the term ‘nail polish’ came to be! Soon after, the United States opened its first manicure parlor in 1878. To be more specific, Mary Cobb was the person who ventured into this business and published one of the first known guides for doing manicures from home.


The Commercialization of Nail Polish

commercialization of nail polish

The United States took the lead in commercializing the first nail polish in the year 1917 as an affordable luxury. One of the main ingredients was actually used in making car paints as well, so you can probably imagine that the smell is not too good, to say the least.

The improvement came in the year 1932 when dyes are replaced with color pigments, which increased the color range for nail polish products. By the year 1976, these new colors and pigments allowed nail polish to help invent the French manicure look, although that was completely done by accident when an American makeup artist created the color combination to match the Hollywood stars’ wardrobe looks.


The Weird Part of Nail Polish History

weird fact of nail polish history

Here’s where it gets weird. In 2003, a small company in the United States created a line of nail polish products called Pawlish, which can be used to give pet-i-cures to man’s best friends. As you might have guessed, this product did not go too well and died out not too soon after.

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So, there you have it! We have come pretty far from using plant dyes and egg whites to stain our nails. Our wide nail polish product ranges and even nail extensions at this age would seem way too futuristic for our ancestors! With matte nail polish and specialized nail polish for your top coat and base coats and more, who can tell what kind of new nail polish is going to be trendy next?

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