Nail painting first became fashionable in the U.S. in the 1920s with the introduction of automobile paint. Prior to that period, women sometimes tinted their nails with red oil or added gloss with tinted creams or powders. The trend toward women painting their nails was popular in France before it became common in the U.S. By 1925, women painting their nails could use a rosy red color which was normally applied only to the center of the nail and not to the moons.
Two alternatives hit the beauty market in 1927: a rose colored cream and a tube of white, chalky liquid to be applied under the nail tip. The latter produced a look similar to a French manicure. By the 1930s, a team of brothers invented a variety of nail colors and founded the Revlon Company. A few years later, Max Factor created several dark colors designed to cover the entire nail.
Actress Rita Hayworth popularized the look of long, red nails in the 1940s. By 1945, Max Factor added various colors to its line including pink, red and other colors. In the early 1950s the traditional manicure involved polish that did not cover the moon of the nail or the tip. Manicurists worked in barber shops. Artificial nails were introduced in the 1970s, first on the West coast.
The trend toward nail painting in the U.S. has varied over the years. It wasn't until the 1940s that the average American woman dared paint her nails. However, the trend continued into the 1960s. Then younger women tended toward a more natural look in makeup and hair, so nail painting was not as popular. The 1980s brought another upswing in the nail painting industry, though. During this time, acrylic nails and the French manicure became popular.
The history of nail painting dates back to the Chinese, when as early as 3000 B.C. royals used a variety of substances including flower petals, beeswax, egg whites, silver and gold to tint their nails. In Egypt, both men and women colored their nails, with color indicating social status. The royals used darker colors for painting their nails, while the lower classes used paler tones.