History of Nail Polish

history-of-nail-polish
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The exact origin and early history of the art of nail coloring as a fashion accessory is not easy to trace. According to some researchers [1], the trend of nail coloring probably originated in India, where women used henna leaves to color their nails and palms. According to others, it originated in Egypt and from there it traveled to India.

Wherever it may have originated, one fact that remains undisputed is that – nail polish or no nail polish – women have been indulging in nail coloring from as early as at least 5000 B.C.

Nail Polish in the Ancient Years

The earliest formulation of nail polish, however, seems to have originated in China around 3000 B.C.[2] Circa 600 B.C., the Zhou dynasty royalty colored their nails metallic gold and silver using the dust of these metals. Nail coloring, however, was the privilege reserved only for the nobility.

The real credit for popularizing red nails goes to Queen Nefertiti and Cleopatra of the ancient Egypt. As in China, in Egypt too only the aristocrat-class women had the privilege to paint their nails bright red, the lower classes had to make do with pale shades.

Thus, both in China and Egypt nail color indicated the social strata to which a person belonged.

Nail Polish in the 14th–17th Century

Further up the timeline, during the Ming dynasty in China, a new formulation of nail polish, prepared from a concoction of beeswax, gelatin, egg whites, gum Arabic and vegetable dyes, came into use. This led to the replacement of gold and silver nail colors as symbols of royalty by different shades of red and black.

Not many new developments took place in the next couple of hundred years, not till the beginning of the 20th century. In the 1800s, particularly in UK, during the Victorian era nail polish had gone out of fashion. All that the women would do to beautify their nails was applying red scented oils with a piece of cotton and then buffing them in order to get a shine.

19th–20th Century

The trend of unpainted nails continued more or less till the early 20th century. Other than scented oils, tinted powders and creams were also used for rubbing into the nails to give a subtle red tint. This would be followed by buffing to achieve a shiny look.

One such polishing product commercially available around this time was Graf’s Hyglo nail polish paste.

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Image Credits: https://in.pinterest.com/pin/412853490814990574/

Birth of Modern Nail Polish

The foundation for the development of the modern day nail polish was laid in 1920 with the scientific invention of car paint. In fact, it would not be wrong to say that nail polish is an offshoot of car paint.

It was the French makeup artist Michelle Menard, working in Charles Rev-son company (later rechristened Revlon), who speculated creating nail polish using the same technique as that for making car paint. This idea truly revolutionized the entire world of nail coloring and nail polish.

The first ever modern day nail polish made by Revlon Company using pigments instead of dyes became commercially available in 1932 in salons and in 1937 in drug stores and departmental stores. And by the 1940s even the common women started wearing nail polish, not just actresses and high-society women.

Advancements in Nail Polish

During the initial years, nail polish conventionally came in red color and its varying shades. The 1950s were ruled by this trend. In the 1960s the focus turned to muted, pastel shades.

In the 1970s natural shades, popularized by Hollywood stars like Goldie Hawn and Mia Farrow, became a rage. Bright reds and fuchsias once again became a style statement in the 1980s. Darker shades like dried-blood red and blackish red emerged later on.

The eighties was also a period of abundant creativity in nail art. A whole range of new nail polish shades, including neon colors, nail polish finishes, nail embellishments, nail enhancements, nail charms, etc., were experimented upon to create new designs.    

By 1990s, nail polish could be found in every possible shade and nuance of the spectrum. Solid colors started diversifying into other finishes, such as glitter, crackled, speckled, flake, etc.

The following years saw the emergence of long-lasting nail polishes like gel nail polish and acrylic nail polish. A whole range of new nail polish textures have also evolved over the years.

Scenario Today

Today nail polish is available in any and every conceivable color. A variety of nail polish formulations are available that can stay flawless for as long as 15 days or more. Nail polishes are available that not only serve to protect nails but even enhance nail health.

There are so many textures and finishes to choose from such as  matte, glitter, micro-glitter, shimmer, micro-shimmer, frost, luster, crackled, crème, opalescent, iridescent, jelly or translucent, prismatic, duo chrome, magnetic, holographic, and what not.

All these developments in nail polish make nail manicure a truly delightful experience.

[1]HennaArt Connection,  http://hennaartconnection.com/history-of-henna

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nail_polish#cite_note-sher119-2

Featured Image Credits: omgnailpolish.com

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