When Was Nail Polish Invented?

Nail polish has become a part of our everyday lives and it’s hard to imagine life without it. It feels like it has been around forever. But wait, when was nail polish invented? And how long has it been around?

The history of nail polish and nail care cosmetics is incredibly interesting. If you love all things nails, why not educate yourself about the origins of this fun and creative product?

If you’ve ever wondered about the history of nail polish, read on. 

What This Article Covers:

The History of Nail Polish

The history of nail polish stretches back centuries. So, when we say that it’s been around forever, we’re not joking. 

The ancient ancestor of the modern-day nail polish was born in India in 5,000BC. Back then, it was known as nail dye. Amazingly, this dye has stood the test of time and is as popular today as it was back then. The first recorded nail dye was known as mehndi and women used it (and still use it) to beautify their skin and nails with gorgeous body art. Mehndi was also used to dye hair. 

who invented nail polish

Mehndi was also used to indicate social status and to adorn a bride on her wedding day. In some Indian cultures, the dye was also used to imprint a wife’s first steps into her new household after marriage. 

The next known mention of people using nail dyes was in 3,200BC when Babylonian warriors used black kohl to color their nails. Painted nails were an indicator of status and a warrior’s battle prowess. 

The warriors went as far as to paint their lips to match their nails before going into battle. This combination was a common intimidation tactic.

So, the next time you’re painting your nails and putting on your favorite shade of lipstick, remember that you’re essentially wearing ancient battle armor. 

3,000 BC saw the evolution of ancient forms of nail dyes. In ancient China, nail polish was made from beeswax, egg whites, gelatin, and vegetable dyes. As with the Babylonian warriors, it was also used to signify class and status. 

What Year Was Nail Polish Invented?

The rich history of nail polish and nail dyes set a pretty solid foundation for the birth of modern nail polish. The first clear liquid nail polish was introduced in 1916 by the Northam Warren Corporation. The following year, in 1917, the company came out with rose-tint nail polish and expanded its nail care line. 

 nail polish history

The birth of modern nail polish was attributed to the discovery of a substance called nitrocellulose. This substance was initially used to make automobile paint, but people soon discovered that it had other, more fun, uses.

Nitrocellulose then became the key ingredient in regular nail polish. 

Who Invented Nail Polish?

who invented the nail polish

By now, we’ve explained a fair bit of the history of nail polish and its invention in 1916, but who invented nail polish?

Modern nail polish was invented by Northam Warren, a chemist from Chicago. Northam Warren initially worked for Parke, Davis, & Company before starting his own business in 1910, in New York City. 

In 1911, Warren developed the formula for a cuticle remover, which became a massive success. As the name implies, it removed the dead nail cuticle without cutting or scraping. Warren continued to build his nail care line. 

Because of the success of this line, Warren founded his company, the Northam Warren Corporation, in 1915.

Surprisingly, he didn’t think that liquid polish would be a major seller and stuck to the tried-and-true cake, paste, powder, and stick products. It wasn’t until 1916 that he finally took the plunge and developed a colorless liquid nail polish.

It wasn’t until the 1930s, though, that nail polish remover would be invented

Now, there are many theories why liquid nail polish became such a success and why it was initially developed. One of the most popular theories is that liquid polish was inspired by automobile paint. 

Who Invented Gel Nail Polish?

Gel nail polish was invented after regular nail polish and acrylics.

They were invented by a dentist called Fred Slack. The story behind it is quite amusing. Dr. Slack broke his nail while at work and used dental acrylic to create a replacement! And thus, gel nails were born! 

the history of nail polish

It is strange to think that from this tiny accident, an entire range of new nail products was born

Gel nail polish is essentially made up of acrylic monomers and oligomers that bond when exposed to UV light. For you nail experts out there, you’ll know that this process is called curing and happens in a matter of seconds. 

Strangely, when gel nails were first introduced to the public in the 1980s, it was met with limited success. It is hard to think about gel nails not being a hit considering how successful it is today.

What Was the First Color of Nail Polish?

who made nail polish

As mentioned above, the first record of nail polish (not nail dye) was recorded in 3,000BC China. Much like with the Babylonian warriors and the ancient Egyptians, nail polish was used to show social status. In 600 BCE, during the Zhou Dynasty, nail polish was used to show royal statuses among the royal family. 

During the Zhou Dynasty, the royal family favored gold and silver, so historians assume that those were the first nail polish colors. 

But, in 3,000BC the Egyptian people had already developed nail polishes in nude, light colors, as well as red, so there is some debate surrounding what the first color of nail polish was. 

But, if we’re going according to modern nail polish, the first color would be the rose-tint polish developed by Northam Warren in 1917. The rose tint nail polish became a hit in Paris and launched an entire line of colored nail polishes with different nail polish names

After that, the nail cosmetics industry boomed into what we know today. These days, it is super easy to get your hands on some great affordable nail polishes


It is hard to imagine a life without nail polish. Since its invention in 1916, nail polish has taken the world by storm and, thanks to that invention, we have so many new nail arts to enjoy. 

There are gel nails, acrylics, and fun nail art. You can also find a ton of other great nail products today, such as the best nail polish thinner, to make nail care that much easier. 

If you’re searching for a fun and fresh way to join in on the fun, why not check out our nail polishes? We at Orly beauty have a ton of unique colors to suit any occasion.

Nail Polish FAQs

Here are a few frequently asked questions:

Who Invented Nail Polish Remover?

When looking up the history of who invented nail polish, the logical next question is who invented nail polish remover? 

Nail polish remover was invented in the early 1920s by Michelle Menard. This invention changed the game. It allowed nail polish enthusiasts to switch up their nail polish quickly and easily. Now, nail polish remover has become just as popular as nail polish. 

when was the first nail polish invented

Did People Have Nail Polish In the 1800s?

Well, yes and no. By the time the 1800s rolled around, nail stains and dyes had been around for centuries but nail polish as we know it had yet to be invented. So, people commonly polished their nails rather than painting them. This was done by using creams or tinted powers, and buffing the nail until it was clean and shiny. 

While buffing your nails is still something people do today, it is now one of the many steps people use when prepping their nails to be painted.

Who Was the First Person to Paint Their Nails?

While it is impossible to know who the first person to ever paint their nails was, we know that nail dyes originated in India as mehndi. So, we think it’s safe to say that it is very likely that the first person to dye their nails was born and lived in India. 

In those days, nail dyes were an important cultural and social indicator, often reserved for those of a higher class. Today, nails and nail art are a form of expression and creativity. It is so easy to find a good place to buy nail polishes, especially now that we have the internet on our side.

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