Chou Dynasty of 600 B.C., Chinese royalty used gold and silver to enhance their nails. A fifteenth-century Ming manuscript cites red and black as the colors chosen by royalty for centuries previous. The Chinese used a colored lacquer, made from a combination of Arabic gum, egg whites, gelatin and bee wax. They also used a mixture consisting of mashed rose, orchid and impatiens petals combined with alum. This mixture, when applied to nails for a few hours or overnight, left a color ranging from pink to red.
It is unclear how the practice of coloring nails progressed following these beginnings. Portraits from the 17th and 18th centuries include shiny nails. By 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. In addition, English and US 19th century cookbooks contained directions for making nail paints. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, women still pursued a polished, rather than painted, look by massaging tinted powders and creams into their nails, then buffing them shiny. One such polishing product sold around this time was Graf’s Hyglo nail polish paste. Some women during this period painted their nails with clear, glossy varnish applied with a camel-hair brush.
When automobile paint was created around 1920, it inspired the introduction of colored nail enamels. Made much the same as automobile paint, the first liquid nail polish appeared in 1907 and was soon available in a variety of bright colors. The flashy style of the 1920s, with its love of exotic Eastern fashions, was the perfect time for the new product, and young women of the era painted their nails in bright pinks and reds, sometimes leaving the tips white for contrast.
One of the first brands of nail polish sold in the United States was Cutex Liquid Polish. Women's magazines, such as the Ladies' Home Journal and Delineator, carried advertisements to entice women to use Cutex. One Cutex ad in the Delineator of September 1929 features the celebrity dancer Irene Castle showing off painted nails. The fashion for painted nails has not diminished. Cutex and many other brands of nail polish continue to be sold throughout the world.
Credits: Wikipedia & Fashion Encyclopedia