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History of Manicures

Manicures have really transformed over the years, from the classic red nails of the 1950s housewife and the crazy long acrylic nails with designs ranging from palm trees to stars in the ’80s, to the huge French manicure craze of the ’90s. Would it surprise you that manicures actually go even further back than the 1950s? Manicures are actually an ancient practice that dates back many, many centuries!

Yep. We’re talking about 5,000 years ago old! Okay, so they may not have had electric blue sparkle nail polish or paraffin wax back then, but women were still interested in, well, “getting their nails done.”

In ancient India, women used henna (dye made from a plant) to paint their nails, and the trend quickly spread to other places in the world. About 4,000 years ago, women in Babylonia started to actually ‘manicure’ their nails with tools they made from solid gold.

As nail polish dyes and colors evolved, manicuring also began to show social status, especially in the Ming dynasty in China. The elite women would paint their nails either red or black to show their high social rank, hey, those colors are still popular today! It is believed that Queen Nefertiti and Cleopatra were both big fans of red nail polish.

Let’s fast forward a few centuries to France in the 18th century with the introduction of, you guessed it, the French manicure. The style was designed to resemble natural nails with a pink base and white tips. Women would often buff their nails with a chamois cloth.

Although the idea of tinting your nails and manicuring arrived in the United States in the 1920s, it didn’t start to become a phenomenon until the 1930s, when a team a brothers introduced a little company called Revlon, quickly followed by Max Factor’s line of cuticle cream and cuticle remover. Movie stars of the 1930s started showing up with red nails galore, but it really wasn’t until the 1940s that the average American woman started to paint her nails. Artificial nails hit the market in the 1970s and really made it big in the 1980s with women flaunting some dangerously long nails.

Today’s manicures often include soaking the hands, softening the hands and cuticle with oil or by dipping them in paraffin wax. A nail technician will also clean up cuticles and file and shape the nail. Colors have also evolved over the years to include almost any color imaginable as well as nail polishes with glitter and sheen, and polishes that can change color.

Next time you’re getting a manicure, think about how the process has evolved over the years. Cleopatra would be pretty impressed, huh?

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