Friday, 16 December 2011

Guest Post: Nail polish through History

Hello people! How are you doing? I'm flooded with work, right now I'm having a small break, and I *really* need to post this, I cannot believe it took me so long! Lately I keep forgetting stuff about blog, I'll need to start some sort of planner, seriously! 

I was contacted by Izzy Woods a couple of weeks ago, she's a freelance writer and super nice!  I guess she can also read minds a bit, because she completely nailed it with combination of history and nail polish (I only asked for the article to be in some sort of connection with nail polish, I didn't propose a theme). I'm a huge fan of history, and, well, obviously nail polish. ;) So I thank her for the article, I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did, even if you're not a fan of history, it sums up the main years for nail polish nicely. :)


Nail Polish and Manicures - a History

From henna to flappers and barber shops to Hollywood, a history of nail art and fashion around the world.

3000 BC – The first known instance of nail art, in China, using enamel to tint nails pink.

1300 BC – Ancient Egyptians use nail color as a marker of social status. Queen Nefertiti goes for ruby red, and Cleopatra likes crimson, but lower class women are only allowed pale shades. Henna is also used to tint nails.

600 BC – Chinese royalty use gold and silver to enhance their nails. Non-royals use mashed up flowers combined with adhesives such as gelatin, egg white or gum Arabic to colour their nails pink or red. Longer fingernails denote higher social standing.

1500 – Nail art is born in the Inca civilisation, where nails are decorated with pictures of eagles. Pretty awesome.

1800s – In Europe, nails are not just colored, they're also scented with oils and buffed with a special cloth.

1830 – Orange wood sticks are first used for cuticle care in Europe.

1880s – First nail salons appear in the US.

1878 – Vaseline petroleum jelly patented. One of its uses is for giving nails a healthy shine.

1900s – In Edwardian Britain, manicuring becomes a profession in its own right (rather than being done by doctors). It becomes a popular profession for working women, usually employed by a barber's shop, and initially the main customers are men. The service includes trimming, filing, shaping, removing stains and polishing. Essential products: castile soap, Borax, nail bleach, nail powder or polish, nail cream, cold cream, styptic pencil, and tincture of benzoin (used as an antiseptic). Cocoa butter, vaseline or olive oil may be massaged into the nails to add shine. The tips of nails are whitened and polished with products such as Graf's Hyglo nail polish paste, a clear varnish applied with a camel-hair brush.

1917 – Cutex introduces a new cuticle remover, which softens and removes surplus cuticle without any soaking or cutting required. Meanwhile Cutex Nail White remove stains, and Cutex Nail Polish – applied just by rubbing onto nails with the palm of the hand – gives a shimmering finish. There's also Cutex Nail Cake and Cutex Nail Paste. Full manicure set available for just 14c.

1920s – Colored nail polish becomes popular, inspired by the availability of a wider range of automobile colors. Only part of the nail is painted – the tips and nail-bed half-moon are left bare. In Paris, the French manicure takes off.

1923 – Q Tips invented by Leo Gerstenzang, a Polish-born American.

1930s– Long fingernails are in vogue, with scarlet shades favored for fingernails and pink for toes.

1932 – Revlon is founded, in the midst of the Great Depression, by brothers Charles and Joseph Revson and chemist Charles Lachman – the source of the 'l' in the middle of Revlon. They develop a revolutionary new type of nail polish, using pigments instead of dyes to produce a more opaque effect.

1937 – Revlon's new range of opaque shades becomes available in department stores and drug stores.

1945 – Revlon launches its first full color advertising campaign, based on matching lipsticks and nail polishes with exotic and eyecatching names, such as Fatal Apple, Sweet Talk and Paint the Town Pink. Following World War II, the 'flapper' look takes off, based on a statement look by Coco Chanel: dark eyes, red lips, red nails.

1950s – Color films have a big impact on cosmetics. Towards the end of the decade, titanium is added top products to tone down brightness, creating paler frosted effects.

1955 – Revlon becomes a public company, opening priced at $12 per share but rising to $30 per share in eight weeks.

1960s – The Cover Girl brand, aimed at teens, is launched in grocery stores. Pastels are in fashion – partly because parents are less likely to object.

1979 – Beginnings of the Goth movement. Black nail polish has its heyday.

1990s – Magazine freebies become widespread, with nail varnishes a hot favorite.

2000s – Revlon moves away from fashion models to movie stars to front its campaigns. Goodbye Cindy Crawford, hello Kate Bosworth, Jessica Biel, Julianne Moore and Halle Berry. Oh, and Elle MacPherson, even though she's a model.

2003 – Water-based polish invented. This is more eco-friendly and free from all the chemicals in most varnishes.

2006 – Some makers agree to stop using dibutyl phthalate, which has been linked to testicular problems in humans and lab animals.

Thank you again, Isabel!

And you, thank you for reading, do share your thoughts in the comments. :) 


  1. I'm not into history at all, but this was a great read! Interesting to know how the object of my obsession got started, lol.

  2. This was really interesting to read! Especially what happened before 1900 :D

  3. Hi, Intersting post! I just wanted to give a few precisions about the Egyptian part as I am an egyptologist:
    The only way they colored their nails was with henna or carmine and no pale colors existed!
    Men did it too; check out the mummy of Rameses II.
    We have no clue if Nefertiti liked red (carmine) or orange (henna) as her body hasn't been found, although we have doubts that she might be the famous "young Lady " mummy found with Akhenaten's mother in the Valley of the kings.

    It always makes me laugh when I hear things about ancient Egyptians that are written but people who aren't specialists, some stuff is just so untrue...

  4. MariJo, I'm glad you liked it, I thought it will be interesting for non history fans too. :)

    Annie, yeah, that part was my favourite too. :)

    greeneyespinknails, thank you SO much for the clarifications! That's what I love about blogs and forums, people can discuss and correct eachother. It's totally cool that you're egyptologist, btw! :) So sincere thanks for sharing the information!

  5. You are very welcome! I wasn't sure my comment would be appreciated and didn't want to pass for a miss know it all!
    I'm beauty freak and read/study pretty much everything I can about Egyptian cosmetics, medicine and magic (my specialty). Let me know if ever you have any questions about Egypt :)

  6. Oh, I always welcome comments, especially those that give something more to the post. :) You're never a miss know it all when you know something and correct the one that isn't right, at least that's how I see it! :) Thank you for the offer, I'll keep that in mind, I love Egypt too! :)

  7. super ti je ovaj post, jako zanimljiv :-D

  8. nisam ja bas od povijesti, ali kad su lakovi ukljuceni sve je zanimljivo