Nail Art/Polish History

Nail Art/Polish History


Nail polish has been around for thousands of years, but in varying forms and styles. The first people ever to show off painted artificial nails were those of the Ming Dynasty in the 14th to 17th centuries; however, basic nail polish has been worn throughout decades by Chinese and Egyptian people. The Chinese wore lacquer made from beeswax and flowers, while the Egyptians sported henna. Both cultures generally wore different colors to label social order in society. Those with luxurious, long nails and pretty nail color often showed these off to signify that they didn’t have to take part in manual labor.

Polish formulas have changed dramatically over time. Ingredients, from when nail polish was created to current years, have ranged from gelatin, egg whites, and beeswax to nitrocellulose, aluminum powder, acetyl tributyl citrate, and color dyes. The first company to launch a nail polish line was Revlon in 1932, based off of the formula for the type of high-gloss enamel used on automobiles. Another unconventional-turned-super-popular discovery were artificial or acrylic nails, widely popular in salons today, as they have been since their creation. An interesting fun fact about them is that the original idea was created accidentally by a dentist in 1957.

The prices stuck on nail polish bottles have changed, escalated, and varied since the modern nail polish originally started trendsetting. A low price in 1934 for a bottle of Cutex polish was 35 cents. Today, the average polish can cost from around $5-$9. High-end polishes can range from $12-$18. The most expensive polish on record (opinion: and probably the most amazing) costs $250,000!! It was made with 267 karats worth of black diamonds and was called “Black Diamond King”.

Nail art has changed and evolved dramatically from its inception. The most popular nail shape for ladies’ finger canvases was long and oval in the early and mid-1900s. One of the first nail art trends at this time was the half-moon and full-moon manicure, closely followed by the classic French manicure. Popular colors, such as varying shades of red, and popular nail shapes and lengths trended from Hollywood stars and carried out to the everyday woman. In decades to come, trends of the nail art world would never remain popular for more than a few years at a time, as the industry is constantly changing.

The 1960s started using oil paints to create some of the first detailed nail art, and the 1970s were excited to begin the trend of long and artificial nails. However, at this time, the glue used to apply fake nails was poorly made and the timespan for its longevity was minimal. Soon after this discovery, salons became more necessary so that a professional touch could be added. Very close to this need came Orly producing the first French manicure kit.

In the 1980s and -90s, businesswomen ignited the thought that manicured nails completed their everyday outfits. This further increased the demand for nail salons and nail treatments to promote nail growth and strength. More adventurous nail shapes were also explored, with natural and acrylic nails, such as squoval and stiletto. For a more speedy way to create some artwork at home, nail stickers came about; this created an easy way to add some detail to your nails without having to acquire expensive paints, polishes, and tools. French manicures remained popular, and even half-moons made a trendy new comeback.

The 2000s have sparked the most humongous awareness and want for nail art. Nail technicians and manicurists are extremely well-trained and demanded by millions of nail salons around the globe. While classic nail art and manicures still remain popular, more people and nail techs have begun to explore their unique artistry through creating their own special nail art for customers, friends, and themselves. Since the need for speed has increased again, fast-drying topcoats, pre-adorned artificial and acrylic nails, and the gel polish system have become increasingly popular since they were introduced. Some of the most popular nail art trends of 2016-2017 are glitter, rhinestone and Swarovski crystal embellishments, dark and light marble nail designs, dark polishes, holographic polishes, textured nails using acrylic powder and gel, and some classics are making a comeback. While nail art history might keep us busy, the nail art future will always keep amazing us.

Sources:, Nail Art by Helena Biggs,, and

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