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Nail polish is one of the best beauty products to be ever invented by mankind. Kudos must go to the person who looked at the nails and thought that they could be coloured. Thanks to him or her, we have transcended the many trends in nail paints and landed in this era where we can have art on them. Stars, flowers, quirky prints, studded stones to even nail piercing – you ask for it, you have got it.
The evolution of nail polish over the years is very interesting, and so are the various types available right now.
As it seems, nail polish is a very old concept. People of the earliest world civilizations wore it as a part of their daily makeover.
Ironically, and much to the chagrin of the protestors of gender-neutral dressing and accessorising, nail polish was first worn by men. Way back in 3200 BC, Babylonian warrior men used to take their time manicuring and lacquering their nails before going to an important war. It is believed they often painted their lips to match with their nails as well. It seems like the early civilised men had their going-to-work look on point!
History says that the Chinese royal dynasties often wore colours that symbolise power and prosperity like gold and silver, which was later replaced with the timeless red. However, the common people were not allowed to wear them. In fact, the punishment if a commoner was found with coloured nails was death. So there was a time when nail polish could get you killed.
Meanwhile in Egypt, henna was a popular dye which was used to colour a lot of things, from hair to hand, just like present day. But the majestic queen Cleopatra is believed to be amongst the first who started the trend of painting only the nails. The mummies of the pharaohs also had colours put on their nails as a part of their post-mortem grooming.
Compared to modern components like polymers, nitrocellulose and other chemicals, the early civilizations used beeswax, egg whites, gelatine and gum Arabic for the lacquer and vegetable dye for the paint.
The transition period of nail polish is difficult to mark. But it has always been a trend in the Orient, whereas in the Occident, the concept of nail polish colors seemed to have vanished after the decline of the Romans. However, in a post-Renaissance period, with better trade relations with the East brought it back.
Ironically, it was in the very heart of the west that the world saw its first manicure salon. Mary Cobb opened a parlour called Mrs Pray’s Manicure in 1878 where every other new thing was happening during that time – in New York City, downtown Manhattan. Ms Cobb learnt the fine art of manicuring and nail-care from France and then added her own little touches to it to start what would later become a phenomenon. But her biggest contribution to the industry was inventing the emery board, which we still use to file our nails.
First nail colours in the market
Cutex was the brand who brought out the first coloured cosmetics for nails. But it wasn’t in liquid form – they were cakes, powder, sticks and pastes. However, by 1932, makeup artist Michelle Menard had already perfected a liquid, a glossy nail lacquer that would be easier to apply and more attractive to look at, which sold out like a bestseller under the company name Revlon – sounds familiar?
Jeff Pink, the founder of cosmetics brand Orly, decided to come up with something that would go with any look or outfit – and the French manicure was invented. For years, the glossy, neutral nails with white enamel tips have graced the fingers and been the favourite of a good many ladies – royalties, celebrities and commoners alike.
The first nail polish colors to be manufactured and sold as a product were shades of red. Till date, they remain the most loved and worn tint as well. The appeal of brightly coloured red nails is timeless, and the first person to begin that never-dying trend on screen was Rita Hayworth. Most of her works are in black and white, but with the invention of Technicolor, her crimson nails matching with her red hair became a rage.
Much later, in the 90’s, Uma Thurman and her bloody red nails in Pulp Fiction led to the shelf-clearing Vamp – cosmetic giant Chanel’s Rouge Noir. Much like the movie and the character, the shade is a cult classic and mass favourite even in 2018. It is undoubtedly among the best nail polish shades ever made.
What started out with red paved the way for all other colours you can possibly think of. Slowly and steadily, all the cosmetic companies across the world caught up with the trend and invented new shades and finishes of their own.
Warm shades like burnt orange, chocolate brown, scarlet, plum, ox blood; cool shades like leaf green, baby blue, lemon yellow; neutrals like nude pink, pearl whites, beige; metallic tones like gold, silver and bronze; neons like electric blue and fluorescent pink – the nail polish industry today has no dearth of colour for any skin tone or any shade preference.
The best part is that there are not only this many nail polish colors but also equally diverse texture varieties. Shimmer, frost, crème, opalescent, translucent, matte, glitter – the list goes on. Among them, the glitter nail polish was a rage a couple of years back. Red, blue, black – every nail polish color was available in cute glitters in them.
However, the popularity of matte nail polish took over that of the glitter nail polish with its contemporary appeal. People started liking the dense, grainy appeal of the matt nail polish in every colour.
The appeal of black nail polish has somehow been a level apart amidst all this rivalry. Popularised in the rock-punk era in USA, it is considered as the best nail polish color by those who have the taste for it. Be it glossy or be it a matte nail polish, black goes with everything and makes you stand apart in a crowd.
You know the craziness around the shade when a company called Azature recently came up with a black glitter nail polish called Black Diamond that would cost you 250,000 USD. Why? Because the glitter in it is literally 267 carats black diamonds infused in the lacquer.
Now you have got nail art salons all over the world which treat your nails like a canvas. Unimaginably intricate designs and nail accessories are put on to make your fingertips look like a million dollars. Nail art kits are also available in case you want to do them at home.
Undoubtedly, nail polish has had a past as vivid as its varieties.