The Interesting History of Nail Art

Nail art is an artistic way to paint, decorate, embellish, and enhance nails. It is a type of artwork done on fingernails and toenails after a manicure and pedicure. Unlike the usual painting of nails, nail art involves adding more designs and styles, It can be adding more colors and patterns to the nails, or putting jewels, glitters, and other embellishments to make the nails look more stylish and eye-catching. 

Today, it is very easy to get nail art by simply visiting nail salons. They will provide you with a catalog where you’d choose the design that you like. While getting your nail art, have you ever thought about where the idea came from? If you are also wondering how the practice of nail art began, you’re in the right place. Today, we are giving you the interesting history of nail art. 

Nail Art History

beautiful nail art

The origin of nail treatment is unclear, as it appears to have come from different parts of the world around the same time. For example, in ancient Egypt, around 5000 to 3000 BC, women dyed their nails using henna to indicate their social status and as well as seductiveness. Women who belong to the lower class wore pastel and neutral nail colors, while women who belong to the upper classes wore deep and bright nail colors. 

In Babylonia, it was the men who painted their nails using black and green kohl, which was an ancient cosmetic. This was to prepare for war. In ancient Egypt, nail colors indicated the status of a person. Noblemen wore black nails, while common men wore green nails. 

Around the same time, the first nail polish was made in ancient China. Ingredients, such as egg whites, vegetable dyes, gum Arabic, gelatin, and beeswax, were used in creating it. Chinese dipped their nails in it for hours and left it on to dry. During those times, the colors of nail polish ranged from pink to red, depending on the ingredients’ mixture.  Throughout the Zhou Dynasty, royalty used simple gold and silver dust nail polish to show their social status. 

From 1368 to 1644, the Ming Dynasty was known for extremely long nails. These nails were sometimes protected by gold and jewel-encrusted nail guards. Since the royals have servants who performed personal chores for them, their nails did not break nor become damaged. One example was Empress Dowager Cixi of China, who ruled from 1835 to 1908. She was popular for her outrageous nails. There were many photos that showed her 6-inch-long gold guards protecting her long nails. 

However, those people did not use nail art as we know it today. They only stained, dyed, or dusted their fingernails and toenails. The very first actual record of nail art was from the Inca Empire, which was from 1438 to 1533. It was among the largest empires in South Africa during that time. The Incas ornamented their nails by painting eagles on them. The first extravagant gold and silver manicure sets were made in 1770. These sets were always used to take care of the nails of French King Louis XVI, who ruled from 1774 to 1792. 

The modern manicure developed in the early 1800s when the orange stick was invented. It was a thin, wooden stick that has one pointy end that is made from orange wood. It was created by Dr. Sitts, a European podiatrist, in 1830. He adapted a dental tool for manicure purposes. Prior to this invention, people used a metal rod, scissors, and acid to shape and trim the nails. Then, in 1892, his niece invented a nail-care line for women of any social class, which later on reached the salons in the United States. 

Before that, women used to have short, almond-shaped nails, and they usually used oils for additional shine or tint. In 1907, the first-ever liquid nail polish was made, but it was colorless. Soon after, it became available in many different colors. 

The lunar manicure was introduced in 1925, which is known today as the half-moon manicure. Pinks and reds were used on the nail bed, while the area around the cuticles was avoided. In 1976, the French manicure style was made in Paris by Jeff Pink, who was also the founder of the Los Angeles-based company called ORLY. Since the 1980s, nail painting and nail art have been extremely popular. 


Nail art indeed has a very interesting history. In some cultures, it is something that can be tied to the concept of womanliness and the sense of fitting in a group of women. In addition to that, nail art is also a way to make its own identity through fashion by using colors, shapes, and patterns. In the present time, with the popularity of social media, it is easier for people, particularly women, to discover different nail art designs and inspirations. 

We hope this helped you learn about the interesting history of nail art. For more information, you can also read our article about the Interesting Facts About Nails and Nail Polish.