By Mary N. DiZazzo

"My Johnny doesn’t like Sylvia’s ‘jungle red.’ He says he’d like to do her nails down to the wrists with a big buzz-saw."
--The Women, 1939.

Ciao bella,

Since the times of the pyramids, women have sought to beautify their nails by polishing and coloring. In as early as 3000 B.C. the ancient Chinese made nail polish using a mixture of gum Arabic, gelatin, beeswax, and egg whites. This foundation created a platform of nail varnishes –soon dyed or pigmented--, or, as we know it today, nail polish.

Roman and Egyptian officers matched nail and lip color just as they geared up for a battle. A custom not to be questioned!

In the early 1800s, almond-shaped nails were the fashion –short and a bit pointed. Then, women would buff their nails with a scented red oil on a chamois. A rosy tint would appear that lasted a day or two.

As late as 1880, reigning beauties Sarah Bernhardt and Lillie Langtry started a trend by tinting their nails and skin with berry juices and food coloring. Their beauty rituals were practiced in private due to the strict social rules of the time.

By the late 1890s, manicure parlors popped up everywhere. “Of the greatly increased number of persons who have their hands attended to by professional manicurists, a considerable number now have the work done at home,” reports the July 17, 1896 edition of the Daily Nevada State Journal. Quoting from the article, “as many men as women have their nails cared for by professionals.”

Only at the turn of the twentieth century did techniques expand forward. In the early 1900s, tinted crèmes or powders were massaged into the nails to create shine. A glossy nail varnish was ready for purchase and applied with a camel’s hair brush. It would only last for one day.

Today, with extensive technology and endless testing, nail polish can last up to two weeks.

Have you missed any of my columns in the Post-Gazette? Read prior weeks' "All That Zazz" columns on my website

Buona giornata.


Mary DiZazzo is a third-generation cosmetologist and 0wner of Mary for Nails, etc. natural nailcare salon in Andover, and a Massachusetts distributor of Kosmea brand rose hip oil products. She may be contacted at (978) 470-8183. She also sees select clients by appointment in Boston at (617) 742-6881.