Don’t Know Much About History? Just when you thought school was behind you, here’s a short history lesson in nails. This article published in Kanhistique by Aileen Mallory reveals some little-known facts about the history of nail polish that you can use to impress colleagues and let clients know you’ve really done your homework:

Did you know that at one time black was the favorite color applied to fingernails, and that men — not women — wore it? A warrior of Babylon or Homo about to go to war often spent several hours having his hair lacquered and curled, his nails manicured and colored, and his lips tinted to match.

Excavations of the royal tombs at Ur of the Chaldees in Southern Babylonia unearthed an engraved, solid gold manicure set. It and the nail coloring — kohl —were well preserved. Experts claim it was used in 3200 B.C. The kohl is green and black. The use of color indicated status — black for the important, green for people of the lower classes. This status symbol prevailed for many years.

Queen Nefertiti, daughter-in-law of Tut-ankh-Amen and reigning Egyptian beauty 3,000 years ago, painted her fingernails and toenails red. Du Barry tinted hers the color of a rose.

Cleopatra’s nail color came from the juice of the henna plant, producing deep rusty shades with an undertone of gold. Henna on the nails was limited by a strict social code. Only a brave woman dared to color her nails above her “station.”

Women of lowly rank were permitted pastels only. Moving on up the social scale, nail shades grew deeper and deeper. The most brilliant colors appeared only on the royal fingertips of the queen.

Dyeing the nails to enhance the beauty of the hands went on for several centuries.

It took something simple and easily applied to appeal to American women. The answer was liquid nail polish. The first — completely colorless — was introduced in this country in 1916. A year or so later, the first bottle of rose-tinted nail polish appeared. And the vogue was on.

Cuticle remover came in 1911. The remover eliminated most of the tedious and difficult cutting of the cuticles. This made home-manicuring easier, but strangely enough, beauty salon manicures increased immediately. The promotion of cuticle remover had made women more conscious of their hands.

In 1911, less than 25% of the women in the U.S. used any manicure preparations on their nails — in beauty salons or at home. By 1939, 86% were using manicure products, and the manicuring business in salons flourished.— reprinted with permission, Kanhistique

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