History of Nail Polish

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Photo by Kaitlyn Ketchell

Nail polish has a surprisingly lengthy history.

By Kaitlyn Ketchell, Reporter

Nail polish is a staple of any good cosmetic bag, but how did the practice of painted nails come into style? Like many other makeup products, the history of nail polish is a long and fascinating one.

The first recorded use of nail polish was around 3200 B.C. Babylonian warriors would use kohl to color their nails (and sometimes their lips) to signify their social class. Black nails were used to show high social status, whereas green nails were a sign of a low social class.

The Chinese also used nail polish as a reflection of both rank and dynasty. Members of the ruling dynasty would wear vividly pigmented colors made with ingredients such as beeswax or egg whites. Under certain dynasties, members of lower classes were forced to wear pale colors, and wearing the wrong class color could be punishable by death.

Chinese royals weren’t the only ones to use vivid nail colors, though. Ancient Egyptians would also color their nails to show social status. Queen Nefertiti and Cleopatra both favored red nails, while women of lower ranks were, like the Chinese, only allowed to wear pale colors.

The first modern nail salon was opened in 1878 by Mary Elizabeth Cobb, who learned how to do manicures in France. She then went on to open a nail salon in America, creating her own nail products and guides for at-home manicures.

Then in 1911, the brand Cutex debuted with a product for softening cuticles. 8 years later, they created the first liquid nail polish. In 1932, Michelle Menard established the brand Revlon that sold a wide variety of nail products for years before expanding to other types of cosmetics.

And that’s just the polish itself. There’s even more history behind different types of manicures (acrylic, gel, etc.), history’s favorite nail colors, how nail polish colors got names, and more. Almost all makeup products have rich histories, and nail polish is no exception.