History of Nail Polish

Nail Polish - Cosmetics

Even though examples of nail polish can be found in many ancient civilizations, it was the modern times when these cosmetic products reached its popularity. Empowered by the incredible advances of the industrial revolution and new abilities of modern chemist, nail polish emerged as one socially acceptable cosmetic product that was accepted by female population in the western hemisphere. Nail care was always important part of high fashion in modern times, but it was in late 17th century when first portraits with shiny nails started appearing. From that point on, nail care and accompanying cosmetic products started trickling down to the general population, becoming widely accepted during the Victorian age.

However, before we return to Victorian England and the time when nail polish became widespread in the western hemisphere, we must touch upon its origins in ancient civilizations. According to the historians and archeologist, 5000 years ago nail polish was created in China where it was used by ruling class to distinguish themselves from the general population. Popular colors were of metallic nature and they symbolized power and wealth, such as silver and gold. One difference between China and other ancient civilizations that used nail polish was that this cosmetic product was not allowed to be used by general population. Several reports survived of public execution of common people who were caught with colored nails still survived today.

From China, nail polish spread across India, Middle East and northern Africa, where it was extensively used in Egypt. As with many other cosmetic products, nail polish disappeared from the European fashion after the fall of Roman Empire. It was only after the arrival of renaissance and the new trade connection with the Middle East and India that European aristocracy gain access to the nail polish. As the centuries went, nail polish and manicures became more and more commonplace, finally becoming commonplace in France during late 18th century.

By the turn of 19th century nail polish and coloring became more common among general population in France, England, Italy and United States, but it was in the early 20th century when nail polish became truly popular, with manicure establishments appearing in France at great numbers (especially in 1920s and 30s).

Today, nail polish can be found in every possible combination of color and opacity. Black nail polish which is today popular in the Goth, Punk, Emo and Heavy Metal subcultures were not first introduced with them, but in 1930s during the post Art-Deco era.