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Beyond Color: The Fascinating Composition and History of Nail Polish

Introduction to Nail Polish and Nail Enamel

Nail polish or nail enamel, as many people call it, is one of the most popular cosmetics in the world. It adds color to our nails and completes our looks.

However, there is a lot more to nail polish than just adding color. In this article, we will explore the different types of nail polish, their compositions, and the history behind them.

Composition of Nail Polish

Nail polish is a liquid substance made of several ingredients that harden after application, forming a protective layer around the nail. The following are the components of nail polish:


Film-forming Polymer

A film-forming polymer forms the actual coating on the nails once the polish dries. Common examples of film-forming polymers used in nail polish are polyurethanes, polyester resins, and acrylics.

2. Nitrocellulose

Nitrocellulose is a highly flammable compound that forms a tough, durable film when dry.

It is used as a binding agent in nail polish. 3.


Plasticizers are used to make the nitrocellulose more flexible and less brittle. 4.

Dyes and Pigments

Dyes and pigments are used to add color to the polish. 5.

Adhesive Polymer

An adhesive polymer is added to improve the adhesion of the polish to the nail. 6.

Thickening Agents

Thickening agents are used to make the polish easier to apply and prevent it from running. 7.

Ultraviolet Stabilizers

Ultraviolet stabilizers are added to protect the polish from fading when exposed to sunlight.

Types of Nail Polish

1. Base Coat

A base coat is a clear polish that is applied before the colored nail polish.

It acts as a barrier between the nail and the colored polish, preventing staining and helping the polish to adhere better to the nail. 2.

Top Coat

A top coat is a clear polish that is applied over the colored nail polish. It adds shine and protection to the polish and helps it last longer.

3. Gel Nail Polish

Gel nail polish is a type of nail polish that is cured, or hardened, using an ultraviolet or LED lamp.

It is more durable and longer-lasting than regular nail polish and can last up to two weeks. 4.

Ridge Fillers

Ridge fillers are used to smooth out uneven nail surfaces. They fill in the ridges and grooves on the nail, creating a smooth surface for the polish to be applied over.

History of Nail Polish

Nail polish has been around for thousands of years. Its use dates back to the Zhou Dynasty in China, where the colors of the nails were used to signify social status.

Members of the royal family wore gold and silver while the lower classes were allowed to wear lighter shades. In ancient Egypt, nail polish was made from a combination of beeswax, egg whites, and vegetable dyes.

Cleopatra was said to have used deep red nail polish to match her signature red lips. In the 20th century, nail polish became more widely available and affordable.

The first nail polish was introduced in 1917 by Charles Revson, who founded Revlon. By the 1950s, nail polish had become an essential part of every woman’s beauty routine.

Modern Day Nail Polish Trends

Today, nail polish is more than just a cosmetic product. It has become a way for people to express themselves and add a pop of color to their outfits.

From bright neon shades to pastel hues, there is a nail polish color for every occasion. Moreover, nail art has become a popular trend among the younger generation.

People are now experimenting with different designs, textures, and patterns using nail polish. This trend has given people the freedom to express themselves creatively and push the boundaries of traditional nail polish.


Nail polish has come a long way since its inception. It has evolved into a cosmetic product that allows people to express themselves creatively and experiment with different colors and designs.

Knowing the various types of nail polish and their compositions can help you make informed decisions when choosing the right polish for your nails. Whether you want a fresh pop of color or a sophisticated look, nail polish has got you covered.

Nail Polish and Nail Enamel Explained

Nail polish and nail enamel are two terms that are interchangeably used to refer to the colored lacquer used to paint nails. However, there is a subtle difference between the two.

Nail polish is a type of colored liquid that, when applied to nails, dries and hardens to form a protective layer over the nail. It comes in a wide range of colors and finishes, from mattes to shimmers and metallics, and is popularly used by women to enhance their beauty.

On the other hand, nail enamel is a high-quality paint used to finish furniture and other wooden surfaces. As it is not specifically made for use on nails, it raises some concerns regarding the suitability and safety of using it on nails.

Some of the concerns emanate from the enamel’s potential toxicity, lack of application brush, and irregular drying. While it is true that nail polish and nail enamel share some similarities, the difference lies in their composition, quality, and purpose.

Difference between Nail Polish and Nail Enamel


Nail polish is made up of a mixture of chemicals that create a thin film on the surface of the nail. The primary ingredients of typical nail polish are nitrocellulose, pigment, and solvent.

The nitrocellulose acts as a film-forming agent responsible for the nail polish’s texture and toughness, the pigment is used to provide colors, and solvents are used to dilute the mixture and make it easily spreadable across the nails. Nail enamel, on the other hand, is made up of higher-quality chemicals and possesses a more durable composition that makes it suitable for industrial use.

For instance, nail enamel may contain chemicals such as hardeners, resins, and pigments that are not usually present in nail polish, making it more durable and challenging to remove.

Polishing Appearance

Nail polish is made to give nails a polished appearance, a glossy shine that makes nails look well-maintained and attractive. It is available in a range of shades that match different skin tones and outfits, making it a versatile beauty product.

In contrast, nail enamel is not made to provide a polished appearance on nails. Rather, it is made to provide a protective coating on wood finishes, such as wooden furniture and walls, protecting them from damage.

Therefore, when applied to nails, nail enamel can make the nails look dull, unattractive, and may chip off quickly.


Nail polish is made to provide a thin layer of protection on nails, giving them a polished appearance. It is designed to be easy to apply, dries quickly, and is chip-resistant.

It also provides a protective layer that prevents nails from breaking or chipping easily. Nail enamel, however, is not designed for application to nail beds.

Instead, it is meant to offer protection to surfaces such as furniture, automobiles, and industrial surfaces. Using it on nails may not offer any real protection to the nails or surrounding skin.


Nail polish is a less durable coating, as it is made to be easily removed using acetone or other chemicals. It is commonly applied to the nails as a thin coating, intended to add color or gloss.

Nail enamel, on the other hand, is a more robust coating and is engineered to provide resistance to wear and tear from external factors. It is hardened to withstand harsh environments and protect the surface it has been applied to.

No Difference Between Nail Polish and Nail Enamel

While there is a slight difference between nail polish and nail enamel regarding their composition, purpose, and performance, the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, and in most cases, they refer to the same product that is used on nails. Although some high-quality manufacturers may produce a type of industrial-grade enamel with some of the same characteristics as nail enamel, it is not a product commonly used for nails.

Furthermore, most nail polish manufacturers have formulated their products to provide a more durable coating that provides both protection and an attractive appearance. Therefore, for most women, there is no difference between nail polish and nail enamel, as they use both words to refer to the same product.

People are advised to read and follow proper usage instructions carefully when purchasing or using nail polish or enamel. In conclusion, while the terms “nail polish” and “nail enamel” are often used interchangeably, there is a subtle difference between the two.

Nail polish is a colored liquid that gives nails a polished appearance, while nail enamel is a high-quality paint used in industrial settings. Nail polish and enamel compositions and purposes differ, but they are widely viewed as the same product for nail care and beauty.

It is essential to read and follow instructions carefully and choose the right product for each use, be it for protection or fashion, and protect the nails or surface being worked on. This understanding of the difference between nail polish and nail enamel can help people make better-informed decisions when purchasing or using these products.

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