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The history of the manicure

04 February 2015
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The word manicure comes from Latin, combining ‘manus’ meaning hand and ‘cura’ meaning care. The type of gel nail manicure you might book from Nail It! Ibiza today is naturally very different to a manicure 3000 years ago, evolving from yesteryear’s simple kohl stains to today’s trend conscious colours and durable technology.

The first manicure set


Ancient Babylonia 3500 B.C. - 1781 B.C.

The Babylonians created the world's first and most luxurious manicure set made from solid gold, manicuring their nails with their VIP tools. It might have been the best nail manicure ever, but they only had kohl to colour their nails. Different classes used different colours, with the lower classes wearing green and the most important members of society wearing black.

The nail care of Cleopatra and Queen Nefertiti

Ancient Egypt 1300 B.C. - 1st Century B.C. 

As usual the Egyptians were ahead of their game, and those lavish ladies Cleopatra and Queen Nefertiti were not content with simply bathing in asses milk. Their nail manicures involved rubbing oils and incense into their hands, applying herbal strengthening potions and staining the nails with henna. The intensity of the red signified their wealth and status; Cleopatra had hers painted blood red while Nefertiti had ruby stain.

The long different coloured nails

China & the Ming Dynasty 1300s–1600s

The Chinese Royals had extra-long talons and their own style of nail manicures. Some painted their nails gold or silver; others created colours mixed together from egg whites, wax, vegetable dyes and gelatin, to produce a range of varnishes from dark red to black.

The rich men and women of the Ming Dynasty loved black and red nails. Later they wore nail shaped metal finger tips to show how long their nails were, and thus how much power they wielded in society. It’s a far cry from today’s gel nail manicures but the link between status and nails has clearly been around for a while.

Medieval and Tudor Europe late 1400s to 1600

The best nails of Europe

Elizabeth I was applauded for her beautiful hands and nails, and having neat manicured nails became a mark of affluence in Europe.

America in the1800s

The favourite nail look of American women

Initially hands were covered in aromatic oils and the manicure itself was carried out using metal instruments, scissors and acids, before polishing nails with a soft cloth. Tools soon evolved and in 1830 a doctor called Sits used an orange tree file on his patients’ nails. His niece was then inspired to invent an entire nail care system which was cheap enough to allow all American women to care for their nails. The favoured look was short, almond shaped nails.

New era of manicure with Max Factor

The 1920s and 1930s

As the automobile industry flourished and new paints were developed, women began to colour their nails using high-gloss paints. In 1925 pink nail polish not only hit the shelves but was an instant hit, and in 1932 the newly formed Revlon brand launched a ground breaking product using pigments instead of dyes. Max Factor then created a smooth turquoise polish which sent manicures into a whole new era. Flappers and silver screen actresses had made the half-moon look and the French nail manicure popular, but by the 30s the trend was for long round nails painted red.

The first manicure salons

The 1940s and 1950s

In the 40s women started painting their nails at home, and visited salons for their first acrylic nail manicure. Many copied stars of the screen like Elizabeth Taylor and Rita Hayworth, shaping their bright red nails to a point. By the 50s manicures were the most popular treatment in the cosmetics industry.

The great population of acrylic nails manicure

The 1960s and 1970s

60s chicks chose more pastel shades, and French manicures experienced a revival thanks to ORLY founder Jeff Pink who used it on the Paris runways. Acrylic nails were widely available and specialists in this field became the leaders of the pack, applying nail manicure tips and teaching their skills.

Gaudy nails

The 1980s and 1990s

The power dressing 80s were all about hot pinks and bold reds. The nail art manicure was born as technicians began experimenting with colours, patterns, textures, and embellishments, with Japan flying the flag for the longest and craziest designs. Nails we filed into squares as opposed to the more traditional almond shapes, and by the 90s goths and grunge saw men and women alike painting their nails deep purples and black.

The gel nail manicure

The 2000's

The last decade has seen nail art manicure become increasingly popular with women from many different backgrounds. Our Nail It! Ibiza technicians are artists in their own right, creating unique designs to be proud of. The gel nail manicure has seen slick durable polishes adorning the fingers and toes of many, often with nail art added to a few select nails, but the natural nail manicure is also extremely popular. There are numerous nail bars and spas in every town, and polish is available in a vast array of shades and finishes. New technologies mean chipping is a thing of the past.

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