hand with no nail polish to hand with nail polish
Illustration by Shannon Czerpak, University of the Arts

A History of Nail Polish and Manicures

Getting manicures and pedicures isn’t just about meeting beauty standards. It’s about using nail polish to be more productive and creative.

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hand with no nail polish to hand with nail polish
Illustration by Shannon Czerpak, University of the Arts

Getting manicures and pedicures isn’t just about meeting beauty standards. It’s about using nail polish to be more productive and creative.

Many people enjoy receiving manicures and buying nail polish. Getting pampered or being treated with extra attention and care is something humans like, maybe more than they’re willing to admit. There are many books and kits out there for kids and adults learning to create their own nail art with sophisticated and detailed designs. But using nail polish to adorn one’s hands isn’t a modern thing. Nail art actually started thousands of years ago in antiquity.

An article from The Guardian titled “From Ancient Egypt to Cardi B: A Cultural History of the Manicure” explained that the ancient Egyptians decorated their fingernails with henna and gold paint. In addition to the Egyptians, Indian women and Babylonian men also used items to decorate their nails. The article pointed out that “Chinese women soaked their nails in a combination of egg whites, gelatine, beeswax and dyes from flower petals; roses and orchids were the most popular. The result was shiny nails tinted reddish pink. Long, colored talons — usually worn with highly decorative nail guards created with hammered brass sheets inlaid with semi-precious stones — were an indication of wealth and social status.” Red is considered a lucky color in China, so the color and design on womens’ nails made a significant fashion statement.

People may love to get manicures or do their nails at home because they want to look good, but nail polish holds a larger economic and cultural significance. Getting manicures and pedicures keeps nail salons open and helps employ people. There are many immigrants in the United States of America. For these immigrants, English is their second language and most of the jobs in the American workforce require people to be fluent in standard American English. However, giving someone a manicure or pedicure doesn’t involve much talking. People who may not be fluent in English may instead rely on being good with their hands in jobs at salons, putting food on the table for their families. It’s important to recognize that all jobs in the American workforce matter and that the economy survives and thrives on people cultivating many different types of skills.

Lastly, people don’t just get their nails done to impress others or conform to society’s beauty standards. People do their nails and get manicures because it’s relaxing, fun, creative and confidence-boosting. Just like exploring fashion and wearing a nice outfit, someone who has their nails done may feel more confident about themselves and satisfied with how they look.

I think getting a manicure and pedicure can be fun, but I rarely get either one. I did go through a phase where I was very into nail polish and nail art, but now I care more about buying clothing than decorating my nails. But it’s important to invest in ourselves, financially and emotionally. If getting your nails done makes you feel happy, it is definitely worth the time, money and energy to get a manicure or pedicure.

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