History of Nail Polish

By October 4, 2022 No Comments

We all associate nail polish with fresh, modern manicures, but it actually has a long and complicated history that stretches back as far as 3000 BC. The beauty industry has developed immensely across centuries, with the origins of nail polish having provided the colours, acrylics and shapes that we notice every day.

How Did Nail Polish Originate?

The first recorded use of nail polish was in China in 3000 BC, though it is believed that nail polish could have originated even earlier, during the Bronze Age in India. Indian women would have used henna to colour their nails, a technique that was then adapted by the Chinese, with experimental polishes created from a mixture that included beeswax, gelatin and egg whites.

Around the same time as the Chinese, the Babylonians were also experimenting with nail polish. Warriors used kohl to colour their nails as part of their preparation for battle. Back before nail polish could be mass produced and circulated, each individual would be responsible for creating their own polish and then applying it to their nails.

What Was Nail Polish Originally Made For?

In all of the aforementioned cases, nail polish was created as a symbol of class. The Babylonians, for example, would distinguish between their upper-class and lower-class warriors by having the former use black kohl and the latter use green kohl. The Chinese also distinguished between social classes by the colour of one’s nails, with those in powerful positions wearing red polish. Anyone not from a ruling dynasty who wore red nails even risked being punished by death!

Which Gender Was Nail Polish Originally For?

Just like heeled shoes, wigs and the colour pink, nail polish was also originally created for men, despite its feminine connotations nowadays. Men would apply polish to their nails to make them look shiny and clean. However, it wasn’t long before women were also using nail polish, with the beauty trend typically taken up by men and women of the aristocracy because clean, fresh hands symbolised wealth and status.

How Did Modern Manicures Come About?

Cultures across the world are responsible for paving the way for the modern manicure. The popular French manicure, for instance, is believed to have originated in 1700s Paris. Mary E. Cobb opened the first ever nail salon in the United States in 1878. The first nail polish brand, Revlon, was founded in 1932 in New York City. Acrylics were first created in the 1950s by Fred Slack, who broke his fingernail and subsequently developed an artificial nail to replace it.

The modern manicure has its roots in all the different shapes, styles and ingredients used to create nail polish throughout history. Cobb’s first salon paved the way for salons across the world, Slack’s artificial nail gave birth to the world of acrylics and the French manicure is now worn by people who have never even visited Paris. Nowadays, manicures are readily available to us, but it’s important to recognise all the history that led up to this point.


If the history of nail polish has you captivated then it might be time for you to book a manicure! You can get in touch with JUJU’s in Camden today and take your pick from the diverse range of colours, manicures and acrylics on offer.