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  1. Academy Award for Makeup
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  8. Astringent
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  42. Glycerol
  43. Guerlain
  44. Hair
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  46. Helena Rubinstein
  47. Hermès
  48. History of cosmetics
  49. History of Perfume
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  100. Wella
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Nail polish

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Pink nail polish.
Pink nail polish.

Nail polish or nail varnish is a cosmetic lacquer that is applied to the nails of both the fingers and toes, usually as ornamentation but also as protection.


The practice of adding color to fingernails appears to have begun with the Chinese and Eqyptians around 3000 B.C. The Chinese used a colored lacquer, made from a combination of gum arabic, egg whites, gelatin and beeswax.Another product used by them consisted of mashed petals of roses, orchids, and impatiens combined with alum. (Applying this mixture to nails for a few hours or overnight leaves a color ranging from pink to red.) The Egyptians used stains to color their nails as well as the tips of their fingers. The stain they used was a reddish-brown dye derived from the henna plant. Today, some people still use henna dyes to draw intricate, temporary tattoo-like designs on their hands knowns as Mehndi. After these ancient beginnings, it is unclear exactly how the practice of coloring nails progressed. It is known that around the turn of the 19th century, nails were tinted with scented red oils and polished or buffed with a chamois cloth, rather than simply painted. Even a century later, women still pursued a “polished”, more than a painted, look by massaging tinted powders and creams into their nails, then buffing them shiny. One such polishing product, Graf’s Hyglo nail polish paste, was sold around this time. The women during this period who actually painted their nails, did so using a clear, glossy varnish applied with camel-hair brushes.[1] When automobile paint was created, around 1920, it inspired the introduction of colored nail enamels. Michelle Ménard is credited with inventing the beginnings of our modern day colored nail lacquers.


The color (and condition) of a person’s nails has long been an indication of social status. Because common laborers worked with their hands, having a finely manicured set of nails was not only impractical for them; it was an extravagance they couldn’t afford. Thus, only wealthy aristocrats from ancient times were seen with finely trimmed and decorated nails. During the Chou Dynasty of 600 B.C., the colors chosen by Chinese royalty to enhance their nails was gold and silver. In a fifteenth-century Ming manuscript, red and black are said to be the colors royalty had been choosing for centuries as their colors. Among the Egyptians, too, nail color came to signify social order, with shades of red at the top. Queen Nefertiti, wife of the heretic king Ikhnaton, colored her finger and toe nails ruby red and Cleopatra favored a deep rust red. Women of lower rank who colored their nails were permitted only pale hues, and no woman dared to flaunt the color worn by the queen - or king, for Egyptian men, too, sported painted nails.[2]


Most nail polishes are made of nitrocellulose dissolved in a solvent and either left clear or colored with various pigments.

Formaldehyde is an ingredient in some nail polishes. It is a highly toxic substance. It is a known cancer-causing agent that damages the neurological connectors in the body. It is an irritant to the eyes, nose, throat and lungs and may cause: skin reactions, ear infections, headaches, depression, asthma, joint pain, dizziness, mental confusion, nausea, disorientation, phlebitis, fatigue, vomiting, sleep disturbances and laryngitis.[citation needed] Because it can dry out nails, it is important to first use a base coat which does not contain formaldehyde in order to protect the nail, or avoid nail polish with formaldehyde altogether.

Nail polish makers have been under pressure to reduce or eliminate the chemical dibutyl phthalate, which has been linked to testicular problems in lab animals and humans. Several makers have recently agreed to phase out the chemical in updated formulations.[3]

For those worried about toxicity, thought should also be given to nail polish remover.

Nail polish should be stored in a cool place, such as a refrigerator, as it will change consistency if left in a warm environment.

Nail polish in fashion

Nail polish is traditionally worn by women, who may apply it to their fingernails, toenails, or both.

Traditional colours for nail polish are red, pink and flesh-coloured shades, although more unusual shades are also available. It is believed that the film Pulp Fiction started a trend for a shade of dark red nail polish during the mid-1990's, after Uma Thurman's character wore Chanel's "Rouge Noir" (known as "Vamp" in the USA) throughout.[citation needed] Black or other very dark nail polish has been popular with goths and punks of both genders since the 1970s.

Some men also use nail polish (typically fingernail polish). Rock stars such as Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and Metallica's Kirk Hammet have been known to wear nail polish.

Some types of polish are advertised to cause nail growth, make nails stronger, and stop nail biting. Nail polish may be applied as one of several components in a manicure.


1. Charles Panati , Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things Harper & Row Copyright 1987

2. Article originally published in NAILS Magazine, copyright 2004

3. Charles Panati , Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things Harper & Row Copyright 1987

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