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3000 BC Nail polish originated  in China. The early mixture contained bees’ wax, gelatin, gum arabic, and egg whites. For color, the Chinese added petals of flowers such as roses and orchids to their polish. After the Chinese dipped their hands in the mixture for several hours, the nails turned red or pink.

During the same time period, upper class members in Egypt wore nail polish similar in texture to lacquer paint. Some believe that Egyptians used to paint their nails with strawberries or henna and that after a night on the nail, the color would remain. The ancient Egyptians used nail polish to signify social ranking. Cleopatra wore dark red, and the lower class wore pale colors. Some styles never go out of fashion, do they?

600 BC During the Chou Dynasty, the royal colors were metallic gold and silver. So, the polish color choice for royalty was the same. It seemed that whatever the Dynasty color was; that was the color worn on people’s nails of the Chinese upper class. If the lower class attempted to wear nail polish, they could be punished by death. The polish at the time was colored with natural pigments.

1800’s Some 19th century cookbooks had “recipes” on how to make your own nail polish at home. They weren’t the traditional polishes we know of today, but it’s still pretty nifty, don’t you think?

Also during this time, almond shaped nails, short and slightly pointed were the ideal. Nails were sometimes tinted with scented red oil and buffed with a chamois cloth.

1830 In Europe, a foot doctor named Sitts develops the orange wood stick (adapted from a dental tool) for nails. Before this invention, metal tools, acid and scissors were used to manicure nails.

1892 Dr Sitts’ niece brings nail care to women, and the Sitts method reaches the United States. Salons spread and cater to women of different incomes.

1900’s Women clip their nails with metal scissors and file their nails with metal files. Tinted creams or powders are massaged into the nails to create shine. A glossy nail varnish is available and is applied with a camel-hair brush, but it wears off in a day.

1910 ‘Flowery Manicure Products’ is established in New York City. The company manufactures metal nail files and invents and introduces the ‘emery board’ – garnet abrasive on a wood centre.

1914 Anna Kindred of North Dakota files a patent for a fingernails shield, a covering to protect nails from discoloring while the wearer works with chemicals or other discoloring agents.

1917 “Don’t cut the cuticle!” warns a November ‘Vogue’ advertisement. “Instead”, suggests Dr W G Korony of Louisville, Kentucky, “employ the Simplex Method of Home Manicuring – requires no tools.” The Simplex Sample Manicuring Outfit includes “Cuticle Remover, Nail Polish, Nail Enamel, Nail Whitener, Orange Stick, Emery Board and a Booklet of Home Manicuring Lessons.”

Women buff their nails with cake, paste or powder. One formulation is Hyglo Nail Polish, claiming to be brilliant, lasting and waterproof.

1920’s The modern invention of the car inspired the creation of nail polish as we know it today. With the development of automobile paint, nail lacquer followed close behind. First used around 1920, Michelle Ménard is generally given credit for her interpretation of nail polish as we know it.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the “moon manicure” was all the rage.(Also known as the “Gatsby”.) The cuticles were cut, the free edges filed into points, and polish applied to the nail but not to the moon. Sometimes the tip is left uncovered as well. However, etiquette books of the time warn women against painting their nails with “garish colours.”

1927 Max Factor introduced Society Nail Tint. A small porcelain pot containing rose-coloured cream. Applied to the nail and buffed, it gave a natural rose colour. Society Nail White also hit the market. It was a tube of chalky white liquid that was applied under the nail tips and left to dry. The end result resembled the modern day French Manicure. Max Factor also offered cuticle cream and cuticle remover.

1929 Polish with perfume was introduced, but its popularity was short-lived.

1932 Revlon was founded by Charles and Joseph Revson and chemist, Charles Lachman (that’s where the “l” comes from in Revlon). The first product they created was a nail enamel. Eventually there would be matching lip colors, too.

1934 Dentist Maxwell Lappe invented a product called Nu Nails, which was actually an artificial nail for nail biters. Who knew that dentists would be so involved in creating nail products?

Also in 1934, a bottle of Cutex nail polish cost only 35¢. What a bargain. A 1934 ad offers up Cutex Nail Polish in the following shades: Cardinal, Ruby Red, and Coral.

1940’s Sexy actress Rita Hayworth brought long, red oval-shaped nails into high fashion.

1970’s Black nail polish becomes a popular color with goths and punks of both genders.

1978 Acrylic nails were introduced all thanks to Dentist Stuart Nordstrom, who adapted the formulation used in dentistry, then started Creative Nail Design Systems in 1978.

The French manicure also officially came to be in 1978 when Orly introduced the first French manicure kit. It featured a nude polish for the base, and a white polish for the tips.

1990’s Uma Thurman was said to start a dark red nail polish craze of the mid-1990s when her character wore a dark red nail polish from Chanel called Rouge Noir (aka Vamp) in the film, Pulp Fiction. Jennifer Tilly wore Vamp in Bound, too.


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