You may be able to recite every last pun-y name in Essie’s line of lacquers and know which shade is in trend (Is it greige? Marsala?). But there is plenty more to learn about the makeup you swipe on your fingers and toes. Read on to hammer in eight fun facts about nail polish.
1. Nail polish has a long history.
Painting one's nails goes back as early as 3000 BCE. There is archaeological evidence of the Ancient Babylonians painting their nails before they went into battle—with a solid gold manicure set. In Ancient China, during the Ming Dynasty, people would use formulas made from beeswax, egg whites, gelatin and vegetable dyes.
2. Only the best could wear red …
In Ancient Egypt, nail polish was used to signify class rankings. Those in the lower classes wore nude or light colors while the more elite preferred red shades (naturally). Nefertiti is said to have painted hers ruby colors while Cleopatra dyed her tips a rusty hue with the juice of the henna plant.
3. Polish was developed from car paint!
In the 1920s, makeup artist Michelle Menard adapted the enamel used for cars to create a polish for nails. The formula she crafted was popular with flappers. Their preferred style—dubbed the Moon Manicure—was to paint only the middle of the nail, leaving both the tip and the cuticle bare. At the time, Menard worked for a company called Charles Revson – you might know it today as Revlon..
4. A dentist invented artificial nails.
In 1934, dentist Maxwell Lappe came up with a product he called Nu Nails — an artificial nail created specifically for nail biters. Dentists must have a thing for nail care, because the first modern acrylic nails were developed by dentist Fred Slack.
5. Hollywood has always set the trends.
With a little help from Technicolor, Rita Hayworth became known for her red nails in the 1940s. Five decades later, Uma Thurman’s Vamp polish (which has since been re-released by Chanel as Rouge Noir) pulled focus in the 1994 cult film Pulp Fiction. The shade became one of the company’s most in-demand products.
6. French tips probably aren't really French.
We have Hollywood to thank for more neutral nail trends, too. In 1975, as the story goes, Jeff Pink—founder of the nail polish brand Orly—created the French manicure to expedite the makeup process for actresses making multiple costume changes. However, some say the look does in fact date back to 1930s Paris, when Max Factor developed the clean and polished look
7. Neon shades are actually illegal.
Well, sort of. Certain colorants used in your favorite day-glo shade haven’t yet been approved by the FDA. But OPI has launched a line using formulas that have been FDA-approved.
8. Today’s formulas are made with some weird stuff.
The main ingredient in regular nail polish is something called nitrocellulose — originally known as guncotton, it’s made of plant fiber and the stuff that makes TNT explode. (Don’t worry, it’s also used in products such as ping pong balls.) The nitrocellulose is dissolved in a solvent called ethyl acetate. Once the nail polish goes on your nail, the solvent evaporates leaving the nitrocellulose to dry into a solid—and pretty!—film.