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Chinese Nail Polish: Colorful History of Beauty and Tradition

Nail polish has a long and intriguing history, and its origins can be traced back to ancient civilizations.

In this article, we will delve into the world of ancient China and uncover the secrets of how nail polish was made.

We will explore the dynasty that pioneered its invention, the uses of nail polish in Chinese culture, the reasons behind long nails, the prevalence of nail polish among men, the individuals who introduced it to China, and the significance of nail guards and long pinky nails.

Prepare to embark on a captivating journey into the ancient traditions of nail polish in China. 💪

How did Ancient China Make Nail Polish?

Ancient China had a unique and innovative approach to nail polish. The process of creating nail polish in ancient China involved combining various natural ingredients to produce vibrant and long-lasting colors.

Typically, a mixture of beeswax, gum arabic, egg whites, and pigments derived from minerals and plants were used.

These components were carefully blended together to create a smooth and glossy paste-like substance. The final touch involved adding a drop of essential oils, such as lavender or rose, for a fragrant finish.

This ancient Chinese nail polish formula was not only visually appealing but also provided protection and strength to the nails.

I remembered my mum used the similar method to paint my nails when I was a little girl.👩‍👧

Did Nail Polish Originate in China?

Yes, nail polish indeed originated in China.

Ancient Chinese culture was renowned for its advanced knowledge and expertise in various areas, including cosmetics and beauty practices.

Nail polish was one such innovation that emerged from this ancient civilization. Chinese civilization has a long history dating back thousands of years, and during that time, they developed numerous beauty rituals, many of which are still practiced today.

(Modern Chinese have their own cosmetics with cultural packing. Have a look at their best palette ✨)

What Dynasty Invented Nail Polish?

During the Zhou dynasty around 600 BCE, the royal family had a preference for gold and silver hues. Over time, red and black became the favored colors of the royalty, gradually replacing the metallic shades.

What Was Nail Polish Used for in China?

In ancient China, nail polish served both practical and symbolic purposes. The practical aspect involved strengthening the nails and protecting them from damage. The pigments used in nail polish were believed to fortify the nails, making them less prone to breakage. Furthermore, nail polish helped prevent discoloration and enhance the natural beauty of the nails.

Symbolically, nail polish represented social status and refinement. The vibrant colors adorned the nails of the elite and became a visual indicator of wealth and prosperity. Nail polish was particularly popular among Chinese consorts and noblewomen, who used it to enhance their beauty and display their elevated social position.

For example, in China, royalty would paint their nails with silver and gold, while the average Chinese woman painted her nails light pink. Anyone who wasn’t royal, but wore royal nail polish would face the death penalty. This method was also used in Egypt during the same time period. 

Did Men Wear Nail Polish in China?

While nail polish was primarily associated with women in ancient China, men also wore nail polish as a display of their social status. Men of high rank and privilege, such as aristocrats and members of the royal court, would often paint their nails with vibrant colors.

Nail polish became a visual representation of their wealth and power, similar to other accessories and adornments worn by the elite.

Who Invented Nail Polish in China?

The exact individual who invented nail polish in ancient China remains unknown. However, it is widely believed that the development of nail polish was a collective effort driven by the creativity and ingenuity of the Chinese people.

The rich cultural heritage and artistic inclinations of the Chinese played a significant role in the invention and refinement of nail polish.

Why Do Chinese Keep Their Nails Long?

Long nails have held cultural significance in China for centuries. The practice of keeping long nails can be traced back to ancient times when it was associated with nobility and social status.

  • Long nails were a symbol of leisure and signified that one did not engage in manual labor. They were seen as an indication of wealth and elevated social standing.
  • Moreover, in traditional Chinese medicine, it was believed that the nails are closely connected to the meridian points in the body. Keeping long nails was thought to promote good health by stimulating these meridian points and enhancing the flow of energy.

This belief further contributed to the popularity of long nails in Chinese culture.

Why Did Chinese Consorts Wear Nail Guards?

Chinese consorts, who were the wives or concubines of emperors or high-ranking officials, often wore nail guards as a means of protecting their long, manicured nails.

These nail guards were intricately designed and made of precious materials such as gold, silver, or jade. They were worn over the long nails to shield them from accidental damage or breakage.

Nail guards not only served a practical purpose but were also considered a symbol of the consort’s elevated status and refinement.

Why Do Chinese People Have Long Pinky Nails?

The practice of growing long pinky nails is prevalent in some regions of China and holds cultural significance. These long pinky nails, often referred to as “longevity nails” or “pinky nail extensions,” are associated with traditional beliefs and superstitious customs. It is believed that the longer the pinky nail, the greater the lifespan of the individual.

Additionally, long pinky nails are considered a symbol of elegance and femininity. Some Chinese women choose to grow their pinky nails to demonstrate their dedication to beauty and grace. However, it’s important to note that this practice is not widespread across all regions of China and may vary among different cultural groups.

Why Do Chinese Men Have Long Pinky Nails?

Chinese men grow their pinky nail long for various reasons, such as picking their nose or ears.

In ancient Chinese dynasties, long fingernails were associated with high status and were seen among women of the royal family.

Some Chinese men maintain long fingernails as a symbol of not being part of the labor class.

Long fingernails can hinder labor work and are not practical for tasks such as washing.

There are concerns about hygiene and potential risks, such as the nail breaking inside the nose or causing injury if sharp.


How did ancient Chinese nail polish compare to modern nail polish?

Ancient Chinese nail polish was primarily composed of natural ingredients and lacked the synthetic components found in modern nail polish. While modern nail polish offers a wider range of colors and longer-lasting formulas, ancient Chinese nail polish had its own unique charm and significance in cultural practices.

Are there any surviving ancient Chinese nail polish artifacts?

Yes, there are surviving ancient Chinese artifacts that provide insights into the practice of using nail polish. Archaeological discoveries have unearthed small containers and tools used for applying nail polish, offering tangible evidence of its existence in ancient China.

Did other ancient civilizations use nail polish?

Yes, nail polish was not exclusive to ancient China. Other civilizations, such as ancient Egypt, also had their own variations of nail polish. However, each culture developed its unique methods and ingredients for creating nail polish, reflecting their distinct cultural practices.

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