History of Nails


Humans have been decorating their fingernails far as back as we can remember, but while today this is considered a frivolous, feminine form of expression, its histories have roots in war and symbolism of leadership

Historical evidence

  • 3000 BCE during the Zhou dynasty, Chinese nobles would create a mixture they would use to colour their nails

    • Different colours would denote rank, with the royal family using gold and silver

  • Nail polishes were created using beeswax, egg whites, gelatin, vegetable dyes and gum Arabic. They would dip their nails in the mixture for hours or let it dry.

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  • During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) noble women would wear elaborate long nail guards made of gold and jewels https://www.chineseantiques.co.uk/the-chinese-fingernail-guard-customs-and-traditions/

  • These would help denote status and identity

  • "According to Doctor Sun Simiao of the Tang dynasty, it was believed to be lucky to have one's nails trimmed on certain days of the year based on the ancient calendar. When someone passed away, their nails were often trimmed and buried with them as a filial offering to one's ancestors in the afterlife, according to the Book of Rites. In the Qing dynasty novel Dream of the Red Chamber, a maid demonstrated her love for her master by biting off her long nails and giving him the clippings. In addition to their cultural significance, nails were also decorated and accessorized, particularly by women. Nail polish was made from a combination of egg white, beeswax, and flower petals, and reached popularity during the Tang dynasty due to the influence of Yang Guifei, a famous concubine of Emperor Xuanzong. To protect their valuable and time-consuming to grow nails, upper class women in the Ming and Qing dynasties began wearing nail guards, also known as "finger coverings," as both protectors and accessories."

  • 3000-3500 BCE, Egyptians would paint their nails in nude light colours as well as red

  • 3200 Babyloian men would paint their nails with green and black kohl, curl their hair and get other treatments before going into battle

  • The Inca would paint their nails with eagles on them (documented in the 1600s)

  • Indians would use henna to dye their nails and fingertips

  • 19th century Greek women would put empty pistachio shells on their fingers over their nails as a sort of artificial nail

  • The idea of a modern Western manicure - trimming/pushing back cuticles, trimming nails as a beauty treatment was started in 1770, and King Louis XVI had one of silver and gold that he had until he was deposed.

1890s - Dr. Sitts, a European podiatrist, adapted a dental tool for manicures which may have evolved into the orangewood stick often used today to clean nails and push cuticles back. There isn't a whole lot of information on him? Manicure parlors become popular in the west after this. These services were common for both men and women.

In the 1930s, the dawn of the automobile brings forth options for nail polish/nail enamel, the first true polish was made in 1932 by what would become Revlon. Movie stars make getting nail polishes popular.