The History Of Nail Polish: 6 Things You Didn't Know

Posted by Ren Wu

History Of Nail Polish

Before at-home manicures were ever a thing, nail polish started as a way to define members of society. In fact, the origins of our modern-day beloved polishes may surprise you!

Key Takeaways

  1. It's believed that nail polish originated over 5,000 years ago
  2. Ancient Egyptians used polish as a way to signify classes
  3. The first nail salon in the US opened in 1878
  4. A basic mani used to be only $1.25
  5. The first liquid nail polish was made by the company Cutex
  6. Acrylic nails were invented by a dentist

Here are six things you didn't know about nail polish and where it came from.

See Related: Color Theory: A Guide For Nail Artists

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#1. Nail Polish Originated In 3,000 BC In Ancient China

Nail polish often gets mistaken for a modern trend. After all, modern trends from French tips to chrome designs keep us constantly on our toes with new and exciting ways to style our fingertips!

But just because nail polish and nail art are exceptionally popular today doesn't mean they only became trendy in our lifetimes. In fact, the origins of polish go all the way back to 3,000 BC in ancient China.

Over 5,000 years ago, the earliest form of nail polish was used by rulers and members of high society as a way to showcase their wealth and influence. Though the formula could vary, this ancient Chinese polish was often a mixture of egg whites, gelatin, beeswax, and vegetable dyes.

Some also say that polish first originated in the year 5,000 BC in India and started as henna.

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#2. Nail Polish Used To Be A Way To Signify Classes

Many years ago, there used to be set classes that divided society, and ancient Egypt was no exception. So, in order to signify who belonged to what class, ancient Egyptians turned to nail polish.

Members of the lower class wore nude or light-colored polishes, while those in high society wore red polishes. In fact, it was forbidden for members of the lower classes to wear anything but pale-colored nail polishes.

Research has also identified that ancient Egyptians colored their nails with henna. Even Cleopatra wore deep blood-red nail polish later on.

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#3. The First Nail Salon In The US Opened In 1878

It took much longer for nail polish to spread to Europe, only showing up in the late 18th century. Spawning from European trade deals with India and the Middle East, many people eventually started using polish more regularly. And in the late 19th century, the first nail salon opened in the United States.

Nowadays, there are over 1,300 nail salons in New York City alone. But when Mary E. Cobb opened the first salon in NYC back in 1878, Cobb had created a one-of-a-kind beauty shop.

Cobb had learned the art of manicures in France, then redesigned her skills when she brought them to the shores of America.

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Bonus: 6 Cute & Flirty Spring Nail Ideas You'll Want To Try Out

#4. A Manicure Used To Go For As Little As $1.25

At Mary E. Cobb's first New York salon, the basic manicure went for as little as $1.25. That's a price that would be hard to beat nowadays!

But in today's world, you don't need to break the bank to get some nail art you love. In fact, it's easier than ever to give yourself a professional-quality mani without leaving your house.

All you need are Maniology's nail stamping kits, which contain all the tools you need to create intricate designs on your nails. You don't need to worry about freehanding anything, as this five-step process will do all the work for you.

All you need to do is discover your vision and pick the design and colors. It's that's simple!

#5. The First Liquid Polish Was Created By Cutex

Most ancient forms of nail polish were liquid. But in 1925, Cutex went on to create the first widely popular polish, similar to what we use today.

The company started off by making a cuticle softener in 1911. At the time, Cutex had only its cuticle-softening extract on the market, but soon its business grew into a beauty empire.

Though Cutex's polish was nothing more than a clear nail lacquer, it was still a breakthrough!

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#6. A Curious Dentist Invented Acrylic Nails

Obviously, we’ve moved quite a ways away from just clear nail lacquer. In fact, it’s acrylic nails that are now all the rage! Everyone from popular celebs to a few of your girlfriends can't get enough of wearing these long and durable nails.

Acrylics bring many benefits that a simple polished manicure can't. For starters, they are much more strong and versatile, meaning you don't need to stress over breaking a fingernail as much.

But you might be surprised to learn that the first acrylic nails were made in 1957. And it wasn’t a nail enthusiast or even a beauty expert that invented acrylics. 

Instead, acrylics were created accidentally by a dentist named Fred Slack.

After cutting his thumb, he began experimenting with how to create an artificial fingernail for his injured extremity. And this mishap led to the invention of the acrylic nails we know and love today!

Keep Reading: What Are Subscription Boxes & Are They Worth It?


At Maniology, we believe your nails are opportunities for adventure, fun, and unrestrained artistic expression. Our nail stamping plates and nail accessories are here to help foster your self-expression in the hopes of building a community of individuality. For more nail tutorials, subscription box updates, and designs, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

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  • “the basic manicure went for as little as $1.25” – but what would that be when calculated to todays money?

    Interesting post though.

    Sanne on

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