Did you know that nail polish is thousands of years old?
Sure, nail polish as we know it today was born in the 20th century. But women used some form of nail covering or other already back in 3000 B.C. in ancient Egypt and China.
Here’s how the history of nail polish evolved:
Nail Polish In Ancient China
It was the Chinese who invented the first form of nail polish back in 3000 B.C.. They made it by mixing together egg whites, beeswax, Arabic gum and gelatine. Another recipe required orchid, mashed rose, impatiens petals and alum. Once the mixture was ready, they let their nails soak in for hours to stain them.
Fun fact: the Chou Dynasty (600 B.C.) used gold and silver on their nails. But for centuries before that, red and blue were the royal colours.
Nail Polish In Ancient Egypt
Around the same time, the Egyptians started colouring their nails with reddish-brown stains derived from henna. For them, nail colour was a sign of social order, money and prosperity. The upper classes wore shades of red (Cleopatra painted her nails with a deep rust red, while Nefertiti preferred ruby red), while the lower classes were allowed to wear only pale shades.
Nail Polish In Later centuries
Most civilisations used something or other to colour their nails. The Incas, for example, used to paint images of eagles on their nails. Some Native Americans also sported colored nail, but it’s not clear how this started.
In the 19th century, women used to polish their nails with a cloth and oil to give them a shiny appearance and a red tint. Or the use tinted powders and creams to colour their nails, before buffing them for a shiny look.
Modern Nail Polish
Did you know that modern nail polish (the kind you wear today) is a by-product of car paint? Invented in the 1920s, car paint inspired Michelle Menard, a French makeup artist working for the Charles Revson company, to use the same technique for a nail polish.
It worked. Revlon (the new name of the company) started selling the first nail polish in hair and beauty salons in 1932. Five years later, nail polish became available in department store and drugstores.
But just because it was available, it didn’t mean women rushed to buy it. Quite the opposite. Up to the first part of the 20th century, women who wore any form of makeup had a bad rep.
It was only in the 1940’s that “average” women started emulating the actresses that sported painted nails in their movies and nail polishes sales skyrocketed. Colour me happy for that. I dig my nail polishes.
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