Monday, 20 August 2012

The history of nail polish - part one

Today I will start my series of posts of the history of nail polish. There will be five short posts and this is the first part which starts from the very beginning in India over 5000 years ago!

We laquer heads use polishes almost every day and wears them all the time so I thought it could be fun to know how it all started and how polishes have evolved from over 5000 years ago up until today. It's been quite a ride I can tell you! ;) Are you ready to hear about it? Let's start! :)

Nail colouring in the very beginning

The concept of the manicure began in India well over 5000 years ago with the use of henna as nail paint. This practice spread and was adopted by other cultures.


At one time black was the favourite colour applied to fingernails, and men, not women, wore it. (Here I immediately picture Marilyn Manson in my head :-)) A warrior of Babylon who was about to go to war often spent several hours having his hair lacquered and curled, his nails manicured and coloured, and his lips tinted to match.

Excavations of the royal tombs at Ur in Southern Babylonia revealed an engraved, solid gold manicure set. The gold set and the nail colouring, called kohl, were well preserved. Experts say it was used in 3200 B.C. The kohl is green and black. The use of colour indicated your status. Black was for the important people and green for people of the lower classes. This status symbol prevailed for many years.

A Babylon warrior

Now, let’s go to 3,000 BC in China. The Chinese viewed nail color as a way to indicate wealth and social status. They did not use henna or gold, but instead they created a base mixture of egg whites, gelatine, beeswax and gum Arabic. 
The shades were created by adding rose, orchid and impatiens petals. It wasn’t an easy process and the nails had to be soaked in this mixture for a few hours for the color to set. According to a 15th century Ming manuscript the colours used most often were different shades of red and black.

As the years passed, the Chinese began painting their nails with the colours of the ruling dynasty. During the Chou Dynasty (ca 600 BC), gold and silver dust was used to create the colours worn by the upper class. The nail was also decorated with precious stones and complex cloisonné designs. Nail colour was strictly reserved for royalty in those days. It’s said that if a member of the lower class was caught wearing nail polish they would be sentenced to the death penalty.

Imagine if only presidents and royals and such were allowed to wear nail polish today?! What a bummer that would have been!? ;)

Exampel of cloisonné work

Hope you found this at least a tiny bit interesting! :)
Please feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts!

Stay tuned for part two of the history of nail polish! :)
Part two will be about the nail colouring in ancient Egypt and the birth of the iconic blood red nail polish ;)


  1. Vad kul!! Kommer troligtvis nästa måndag! ;)

  2. I really liked your post, very informative and interesting! I borrowed one image for one of my posts and quoted your blog, come check it out!!

  3. Please upload the real photos of ancient nail polish.. I would really love to see what it looks like before.

    I am leaning towards taking nail technician courses and really interested to use ancient designs.

    Thank you in advance.


Feel free to leave a comment but please be respectful :) Questions will be answered here as soon as possible. Spam will automatically not be published and/or deleted. Thank you for reading!