Highlights From the History of Nails

by Holly Schippers | June 8, 2018

The May Facebook Live with me and #BFFmel covered the history of nails. By request, this coming Monday, June 11, we will be looking at the history of nail art. If you missed last month’s broadcast you can watch the recording or read Mel’s recap below.


When Holly and I decided to cover the history of nail care, I, like most of us, had a pretty good idea of how nail care has evolved over the years and centuries. However, the information I found in doing the research gave me a better understanding of how nail care has become the fascinating and complex industry we all know and love.

This list contains just a few of the highlights of what we covered in our Facebook Live broadcast:

  • 3,000 years ago nails were dyed with things like henna, a mixture of gum Arabic, beeswax, and flower petals, and other plant-based stains and dyes.
  • 600 B.C. China - Real gold and silver powders were used as color.
  • Cleopatra and other aristocrats used red to indicated hierarchy; the bolder the red, the more power one possessed.
  • Early 1800s – The almond shape was popular and nails were buffed with scented oils.
  • 1830 - European foot doctor, Dr. Sitts, adapted a dental tool for toenail care and the first orangewood stick was created.
  • 1892 - Dr. Sitts’ niece brings the Sitts’ method of nail care to the U.S., catering to women of varying incomes.
  • 1896 - The first nail salons are started.
  • 1909 - Lustr-ite Nail Enamel was sold. It was in the form of a cake.
  • 1911 - The first cuticle remover is made available.
  • 1917 - The Simplex manicure outfit was sold for home use, priced at $.14.
  • 1932 - Charles Revson, Joseph Revson, and Charles Lachman have chemist Carlton Ellis create, then patent, the first pigment-based, non-streaking polish. It was inspired by automobile paint and is the first product that we would recognize as polish today. From this product and partnership, the Revlon company was started.
  • 1957 - Dentist Frederick Slack uses his dental acrylic products to fix his own broken nail. He partners with his brother, Tom, and starts the Patti Nails Company that becomes NSI: Nail Systems International.
  • 1960s - Cigarette papers and tea bags, along with model airplane glue, are used to strengthen nails.
  • Early 1970s - Tippy Hedren visits a Vietnamese refugee camp. With a desire to help the women at the camp find a vocation so that they can support themselves, she aids them in becoming established in the nails industry.
  • 1976 - The term “French manicure” is coined by Jeff Pink of Orly. There is much debate on the origins of the look.
  • 1979 - Creative Nail Design (now CND) is founded by dentist Dr. Stuart Nordstrom and his children.
  • 1981 - OPI is founded by dental lab owner George Schaeffer.
  • 1980s - Hard gels are released in the U.S. but have limited success.
  • 2007 - OPI releases Axxium, a colored soft gel.
  • 2010 - CND Releases Shellac gel-polish.
  • The most expensive nail polish is Azature’s Black Diamond, selling at $250,000 a bottle.

If you would like to do any further research on your own, all this information can be found online. The most valuable asset I found when doing the research was, hands down, NAILS Magazine. (I’m not just saying that because NAILS hosts this blog!)

I hope you found this information as interesting as I did, or at the very least entertaining! #NailOn

— Mel

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