Nail Industry – The Evolution & Trends


The use of nails has been in existence for centuries and will not go obsolete anytime soon. Well-polished nails attract people, while unkept and unfitting nails do the opposite. 

Nails have fascinated many people from ancient history, alongside kohl and henna manicures. They have been in use for many years before the lifelong and UV-assisted manicures that are in use today.

In past times, nail colors originated from several places, dynasties, and procedures. Some sources included boiled rose petals, chicken blood, car enamel paints, and others.

Undoubtedly, their uses have increased since the inception of nails, which means they have evolved and trended in time. This article aims at analyzing the evolution and trends of the nail industry.

  • Its Inception
  • Its Evolution
  • Phenomenal Influences in the Industry
  • The Nail Industry Today

Nail Industry – Its Inception

The nail industry began in various locations during medieval times, about 5000 BC. Although, in every true sense, it was not termed to be an industry in that period. In Asia, the coloring of nails was done with Henna shrub, while in ancient China and Egypt, the coloration of nails indicated wealth and royalty. The exact royalty entitlement happened when Nefertiti and Cleopatra painted their nails red because they were royalty.

In the territory of the Greeks, only the masculine leaders were permitted to paint their nails. According to records, every commoner who painted their nails was instantly beaten and put to death. 

In 3200 BC, Babylonian soldiers spent a lot of time dressing their hair, manicuring, and painting their nails before setting off to war. Most times, they used Kohl as the painting element. The colors found in their nails indicated their level. Those who ranked higher had black-colored nails, while those with green colors were low in level.

The Chinese in 3000 BC differentiated their dynasties and ranks based on nail colors. This means that people with higher status used paint elements like Arabic gum, Egg whites, and Beeswax. Those affiliated with royalty and governments used colors that had high pigmentation. An example is red.

Just like the Greeks, commoners were not permitted to wear colored nails. During some regimes, people with lower statuses could paint their nails with dull colors. If they were caught with colors reserved for royalties, they would be killed. Essentially, painting the wrong color on your nails as a commoner was disastrous.

Nail Industry – The Evolution

The nail industry experienced a push-up in the 19th century. Dr. Sitts is one of the pioneers of the industry’s growth during that period. He treated King Phillipe, who ruled France, of a hangnail. In the 1890s, his niece carried on with the profession and educated a lot of first-generation manicurists.  

In the early 20th century, Cutex produced a chemical for loosening cuticles near the nail bed. After this innovation in 1911, it created nail polish in 1925. To date, the nail solution is still in use. Also, the brand has evolved to be a world-leading label in the industry.

Michelle Menard attempted to produce shiny nail paint similar to glossy vehicle paints in the same century. In 1932, she succeeded in her trials and opened the famous cosmetic brand Revlon. The house sold its nail varnish in different colors at various stores for a long time before it diversified.

In the 1930s, a different kind of manicure procedure trended. This involved painting the middle parts of the nail while other areas were unpainted. Eventually, in the 50s, Rita Hayworth introduced a new trend of red nail lacquer that has lasted to date.

A dentist in 1957, known as Slack, attempted to fix a broken nail by using dental acrylic and aluminum foil. In the process, he created a fake nail that seemed natural. Eventually, from his experiment, acrylic nails came into being. 

Pastel colors and neutrals dominated subsequent years like the 60s and 70s. The 80s and beyond had fuchsia, neons, and red as the trends.

Successive years saw more immense innovations and growth in the nail industry. In the late 70s, Jeff Pink of Orly created a technique that avoids repainting nails regularly on TV shows and series. 

Phenomenal Influences in The Nail Industry 

Popular Shades

In the early 80s, Essie Weingarten produced a variety of nail polishes. As time passed, her collection gained prominence. Late Joan Rivers spoke of a Jelly Apple as her favorite nail color on air. As a result, Essie’s brand grew.

Uma Thurman’s nails were colored in Chanel’s Rouge Noir nail color. This was featured in “Pulp Fiction,” a 1994 movie. As a result of this shade, the nail hue has been a big sell-out for the Chanel brand.

Vietnamese Effect

The Vietnamese have played instrumental roles in the nail industry. Based on a report, about 50% of US nail shop owners are Vietnamese. In many of these nail shops, about 79% of the workers are Vietnamese.

Influence From Black Women

According to history, black women contributed to the evolution of nail artistry. They were influential and are the real pioneers of attractive and stylish nail designs. Many prominent figures like Kyler Jenner wear their designs. Despite their impressive contributions to the industry, they don’t get the due and deserving recognition.

In the 60s and 70s, the trend was tiny pink or raw nails among mid-classed white and black women. However, the black women designed their nails to express themselves. They did this with color, length, and beauty.

In 1966, Donyale Luna displayed acrylics on Twen magazine. Donyale was the first Black supermodel. Also, in the 70s, Diana Ross and Donna Summer revealed long acrylics designed with reflective and bright red metallics.


A prominent sports person known as Griffith Joyner, a celebrity for the NAILS magazine in 1993, wore acrylic nails that drew a lot of attention to herself. She was seen wearing a white, gold, red, and blue colored set of nails. Her celebrity influence created a massive spotlight on the use of nails, which moved the industry forward for more prominence. 

Pieper remarked on her nails in her paper in 2015: “Star-Pangled Fingernails: Florence Griffith-Johner and the Mediation of Black Femininity”; as being more vivid than her medals. 

The Nail Industry In The 90s

During this decade, Flo-Jo’s nails increased in prominence. Other hip-hop celebrities like Lil’ Kim and Missy Elliot followed suit. They sported acrylic with bling, hand-painted designs, and others. This was a major inspiration to the many fashion ideas today.

The nail industry experienced a different level of growth from the beginning of the decade. As it grew in some locations, some places saw the other side. Records have it that discount nail salons in the US migrated to Canada at that time. This affected the growth process. 

Despite the migration to Canada, Canadian salons faced the challenge of consistency in operation. Due to the developmental growth seen in the 90s, competition in the nail industry increased.

In 1990, the governing body for nail manufacturers, the “Nail Manufacturers Council”; was created. In 1992, the “Nails Industry Association” emerged. In 1993, nails had photo designs. And in the following year, there were nail polishes that dried within minutes.

In essence, the nail industry in the 90s had better evolution than in preceding years.

The Nail Industry Today

The evolution of the nail industry has brought nail experts to the limelight. In 2019, the nail industry was worth billions of dollars. To date, its worth has increased continually. A major contributing factor to its growth is the social media platforms on which it thrives. Research has it that about 93% of nail personnel use Pinterest. A lot of them also use popular platforms like Snapchat and Instagram.

Fashion runways have contributed to the growth of the industry due to the robust nature of visibility it offers. Also, celebrities are a significant contributing factor. Some time ago, the standard complete set would set a customer back $25. In different areas, convenience has supplanted artistry.

COVID 19’s Effect

COVID 19 caused a fall in the nail industry. The pandemic period had salons closed and shops locked. This forced nail experts to find alternative means of rendering services. In a bid to stay afloat, nail technicians adopted social media, exploring the community and finding solutions to every problem they could spot.

Despite the lockdown all through the pandemic period, people still employed the services of nail technicians. Also, the pandemic period created a realization that salon services were different from home services. Customers realized that they gave regard to the time they took out to visit salons and be cared for.

In past times, the role of nail experts was not showcased compared to other professions. As a result, people didn’t see them as integral. However, the advent of the COVID 19 pandemic made nail experts hold themselves in high esteem. They and their customers understood the necessity of their roles, and this highly recognized value has remained. Also, social media played a huge role in their popularity during the pandemic.

The Industrial Growth

The nail industry is multifaceted. From surveys carried out, the industry has evolved beyond a salon table and a chair. There are a lot of roles available in the nail industry. As long as the industry still functions, there will be more roles.

Based on various examinations, technology has propelled the nail industry forward. According to studies, its growth will push beyond its boundaries. Some successful moves in the sector include the CND’s PLEXIGEL 3+ Week scheme and OPI’s Velvet Vision gel effect. The long-standing factor that has not changed is the regard and kindness given by nail experts to their customers.


The use of nail adornments started during medieval times and has continued immensely to date. Although, based on historical evidence, nail adornments were just for a selected few. But with civilization and evolution, it became a part of fashion that everyone could participate in. It first started with the painting of nails with mere nail paints. Then, it evolved to using nail polishes and eventually to acrylic nails. Today, the nail industry is famous globally in the fashion industry and every sector.

If you’d like to read more on the topic and learn how to start your own salon business, here’s a book you may want to look into: Salon Ownership and Management: The Definitive Guide to the Professional Beauty Business

Moreover, don’t hesitate to look into our blog, where we’re providing a wealth of material on fashion and marketing.

Was This Article Helpful?

Nail Industry – The Evolution & Trends This article explores the evolution of the nail industry from its inception to date. Read on to have an understanding of its growth.
5 1 5 1

You're Never to Cool To Learn New Things

Please note: 440 Industries is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to