Nail art: From antiquity to the present

Current Date: Sunday, 21st April 2024 | Article updated on Monday, 21st May 2018

Contents nail art: From antiquity to the present


Nail art fascination

Flowers design with nail lacquer and strass stones

The term nail art is today more popular than ever. But how did this fascination for the beauty of the fingernails developed? Is it a new trend or is it already decades, perhaps even centuries old? We are pursuing this question and explore the history of nail art.

The breakthrough of nail art

Flower motif with nail art liner and art pen

Basically nail art comes from the nail design and is known in many places under different terms such as fingernail art, fingernail cosmetics, fingernail decoration and other names. However, the term “nail art” has been universally accepted – especially by the widespread use of nail cosmetics – and means the artistic design of the fingernails with various nail polishes and materials.

The breakthrough of nail art began with the introduction of nail polish on the market. This paved the way and made the fingernail decoration for every woman realizable and also more affordable. But all beginnings are difficult: first, women used polishes from the automotive industry to style their fingernails. The consistency of these lacquers was of course not intended for fingernails or daily use, but for industry. For this reason, the beauty industry saw an opportunity to grow in this sector and began the production of special polishes for the nail design.

The chronicles of nail art


Antiquity: The first records of nail art

Records show that in many cultures people have already painted and dyed their fingernails. Already in ancient Egypt around 5,000 to 3,000 before Christ the women dedicated much time in the art of the hands and the decoration of the nails to emphasize their social position. While the high nobility colored their toenails and fingernails with henna (a plant extract) the ordinary women were forbidden to use the same colors as the high nobility. The Egyptian queen Cleopatra dyed her nails with dark colors and decorated them with gold pieces. In addition, artificial fingernails were produced for her made of porcelain powder. This did not have much in common with today’s techniques and materials of nail design and nail art, but the desire to have their own nails appeared in an individual style and thus to attract the attention of others was already present at this time.

Metallic foil in gold and strass stones

600 before Christ, the high nobility in China preferred to paint their fingernails with gold or silver. The color was extracted from beeswax, egg white, gelatin and gum. In the Ming Dynasty, women painted their fingernails in shades of black or light red. They also used caps of silver and gold to extend their fingernails and to emphasize their social status, as in ancient Egypt. In addition, the fingernails were modeled with rice paper to strengthen and protect them.

In the 14th century the ladies of the higher society in Spain have worn long polished fingernails as a symbol of beauty, which could reach a length of 20 cm. They were shaped like almonds and dyed with oils.

The 19th and 20th century: The modern nail art is created

Basic knowledge of fingernail cosmetics - Nail skin (Cuticle)

Around 1830, the fingernails were embellished by cutting the nail skin (cuticle) with scissors or treating it with acid. The physician Dr. Sitt invented the method of carefully retracting the nail skin with a wooden stick from the orange tree. Originally, these wooden sticks were used as toothpicks. In 1892 the niece of Dr. Sitt made the manicure with the wooden stick internationally known.

1917 miss Frederick opened the first manicure salon for women in New York. Many other hairdressing and massage salons in the USA began to offer manicures as well, in order to expand their offerings. These were the forerunners of the nail studios of today.

In the year 1932 Revlon invented an improved and durable nail polish. From then on, famous actresses painted their fingernails in different colors (red, pink, purple or black) and the trend of the nail design and the nail art was born. Over the years, the nail polish production in the beauty industry has continued to grow. New nail polish colors and techniques allowed more sophisticated decorations and designs for fingernails.

1934 the dentist Maxwell Lappe developed the first artificial fingernails with the help of medical polymers. These are known under the name “Nu Nails”. The manufacturing process remained the same until today, only the materials have been further developed over the years. On this basis, different companies have made acrylics stronger and more durable.

1937 Harriet Fligenbaum of Minnesota received a patent for artificial fingernail tips used for finger nail repairs and extensions.

1957 Thomas Slack received a patent for a stencil that is placed under the tip of the fingernail and helps the beautician to extend the natural fingernail with acrylic. This method is known as “Pattinail”.

1960 artificial nails came into fashion. Women wore very long fingernails at this time. The fingernails with acrylic are strong, hard and look natural. At that time a square style of the fingernail was developed and has become a trend.

1970 Jeff Pink invented the French manicure or French nail art. He wanted to create a practical and simple style, not only to demonstrate social status, but also to put a creative aspect into fashion.

Since 1978, plastic tips (fingernail tips) attached on the tip of the natural fingernail are more commonly used to lengthen the nails.

1980 the UV Gel System was developed. The UV gel is applied on the fingernail in several layers and then cured under a UV light.

Since 1990 all forms of fingernails can be worn. Women can choose the shape, the material and the nail art motifs themselves and thus develop and express their individual style.

Today: Nail art leaves nothing to be desired

Nail art motif in red with colour gel

Over the years, the quality, durability, and appearance of the artificial nails improved and aroused a lot of enthusiasm. Today there are thousands of nail studios working mainly with UV Gel or acrylic and modeling the fingernails. In addition, fiberglass or silk is used for the repair of natural nails and artificial nails.

But only by developing high-quality materials and products could this trend grow. Only because of the high quality of the products for nail art and the nail design can be realized such creative decorations and designs today. The motifs, designs and ideas are endless. With enough creativity and a little patience everyone can create wonderful works of art for all occasions. Today, all women can adorn themselves with beautiful and elegantly decorated fingernails. Products often used for the decoration of fingernails are:

Fingernail design with flowers sticker

In addition, products such as nail art liner or nail art pens are used to draw lines, dots, petals, or fine motifs.

The beauty of the hands is more important than ever for the modern woman. As in ancient times, they are a status symbol and at the same time the expression of absolute individuality. Nail art – the decoration of the fingernails – is the extension of the fashion and forms a further fashion accessory like belts, bags and hats, which has to fit every occasion and every fashionable composition. The manicure has reached the level of art and is an inseparable part of the life of every modern, successful and self-conscious woman.

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