Nail Polish seems to have been pushed to the background in the last few years. Gel polish has become the buzz word in manicures - to the extent that consumers no longer realize that "gel nails" and "gel polish" are different things. But I digress. Nail polish just isn't getting the press that it used to and there are people who think that nail polish (lacquer, varnish, etc. - all names for the same thing) is on its way out. Nothing could be further from the truth.
For one thing, as nail techs know, not every person gets their nails done in a salon and no matter how "easy" the at-home gel polish kits say they are, there is a vast majority of consumers who do not want to put in the time and effort to learn to apply gel polish at home. There are consumers who have strong natural nails and get the same wear form nail polish vs. gel polish. There are consumers who like to change their polish frequently and do not want to be "stuck" with one color. there are consumers who have had bad experiences with gel polish and refuse to acknowledge that the fault is not with the product but with the technician. And there are consumers who just love nail polish.
HistoryAccording to historians and archeologists, nail polish was invented 5000 years ago in China from a mixture that included beeswax, egg whites, gelatin, vegetable dyes, and gum Arabic. It was used by ruling class to distinguish themselves from the general population. Favorite colors were silver and gold because they symbolized power and wealth. Eventually, metallic gave way to red and black colors as royal favorites. At one point, nail polish was not allowed to be used by general population an evidence has been found that common people were publicly executed if found with colored nails.
From China, nail polish spread across India, Middle East and northern Africa, where it was extensively used in Egypt. There, the lower classes wore pale colors, whereas high society used henna to color their nails a reddish brown. It was also known that mummified pharaohs would have their nails colored with henna.
After the fall of Roman Empire, nail polish disappeared from the European fashion . It was only after
the arrival of renaissance and the new trade connection with the Middle East and India that European aristocracy gain access to the nail polish. As time went on, nail polish and manicures became more and more common. In Victorian era culture it was generally considered improper for women to adorn themselves with either makeup or nail coloring, with natural appearances being considered more chaste and pure, so fashionable women of the day would manicure their nails by applying tinted powders and creams to the nail plate, then buffing them until shiny.
Interestingly, it was the invention of the car that spurred the creation of the first modern-day nail polish. The very first nail lacquer was a cousin of automobile paint - it was completely colorless and was introduced in 1916 (some say 1917) by Cutex. Revlon became the first established nail polish brand in 1932 when they released a cream color and began using pigments rather than dyes in their new nail lacquer. In 1976, Jeff Pink (Orly) invented the French Manicure to mimic the look of the white pencil that French models would wear under their nails to give them a clean look. Nail polish trends continue to evolve with nail art being a huge trend right now.
Here is a fun info graphic from mentalfloss.com on the history of polish
ChemistryAll nail polish is very similar in terms of the broad formulations.
Nail Polish Ingredients:
- Solvents- Solvents are liquids used to mix the other ingredients and help them flow smoothly. Once you apply the polish, solvents evaporate away (ethyl acetate, butyl acetate, isopropyl alcohol, toluene, xylene)
- Film Formers- chemicals that form the smooth surface on a coat of nail polish (nitrocellulose or cellulose acetate butyrate).
- Resins - modifies the nitrocellulose to form a tough and shiny film - the film adhere to the nail plate and adds depth, gloss and hardness to the film of a nail polish (tosylamide-formaldehyde resin or tosylamide/epoxy resin )
- Plasticizers- keep polish flexible and counteract the brittleness of the resins and film formers (Camphor and Dibutylphthalate)
- Pigments - This is what gives nail polish it's color. Iron oxides, micas, FD&C colorants and other things (such as carmine) may be used for color
- Other Additives - including UV blockers (benzophenone-1), glitter and thickening agents that help keep pigments suspended (stearalkonium hectorite or bentonite).
Because nail polish cures by evaporation, if you use a quick dry top coat that doesn't penetrate through the layers of polish (essentially drying itself but not the polish under it) then you can end up with bubbles from the solvent trying to escape through the dried top coat. This is the same problem you have with quick dry sprays or putting your hands in ice water - its not drying the polish, jus the very top layer which can cause more issues. Just wait for your polish to dry naturally (or use a really good quick dry top coat!), okay?
ControversyNail polish products have been used safely for many decades by millions of people. Fingernails and toenails are made of keratin, which is hard and largely impenetrable. Once nail polishes, treatments, and hardeners dry, the ingredients in the products become embedded in the hardened film coating on the surface of the nail, and are not able to be absorbed by the body or released into the air. The US Food and Drug Administration states on its website that such as toluene, formaldehyde, and dibutyl phthalate are safe under current conditions of use in nail products, though formaldehyde resins may cause an irritation or allergic reaction to those individuals sensitized to this compound. In Europe, the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) reviewed formaldehyde use in nail hardeners in 2014 and concluded that formaldehyde can be safely used up to 2.2% to harden or strengthen nails. I have listed a number of articles and myth busters in the references section below because frankly, I could go on for days on the scare-mongering that is out there about nail polish! Suffice to say that the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is the leading advocacy group that consistently distorts various studies for the purposes of exaggerating the risks so they can intentionally create unwarranted fear. The more people they scare, the more people donate to them. I highly suggest reading Doug Schoon's article regarding formaldehyde in nail polish and his take on the EWG's "report" on TPHP in nail polish. A couple of interesting points: the Duke Study recognizes that the nail plate is known to have “low permeability to most molecules” and people who don't wear nail polish were found with TPHP in their urine due to environmental factors - yet the EWG leaves these points out completely.
I want to encourage you to not blindly follow anyone (even me!) without doing the research and finding out things for yourself.
Tell me: do you still love nail polish?
Tell me: do you still love nail polish?