Nail fashion started about 3000 years ago in China when the women of the royal court would paint their nails using a coloured lacquer. All through the east, Egypt and India women over the centuries have decorated their nails with everything from gold to henna.
Historically wealthy European women tended to tint their nails and buff them to give them a shine. It was in the 1920's with the development of automobile paint that the cosmetic companies started to developed nail polishes but it wasn't until the 1940's that long vibrantly coloured nails became the fashion.
In the 1970's nail fashion boomed with the development of the artificial nail with new acrylic materials. This was also the time that there were government recalls on nail products considered to be health hazards. Sadly hazardous ingredients are still in some nail products.
Your nails, like your skin and your hair, can be an indicator of your health. The average growth of a finger nail is about 1/8 inch per month and it would take about 4 to 6 months to regrow a nail completely for some one in good health. Poor diet and health issues will reflect on the quality and strength of your nails and doctors have examined nails for everything from nutrient deficiencies to poisoning.
The white spots and deep grooves in the nail that have not been caused by injury can be signs of health problems. Your nail health can also be damaged by poor hygiene during manicures. Nail tools used on different people can transmit infections, fungi, bacteria and viruses.
While nail polish has become common place it still is not regulated by the government and cosmetic companies are not required to submit ingredients to health and safety departments. It has only been through consumer pressure that the industry has voluntarily removed the most damaging chemicals from nail polish and not all cosmetic companies have complied.
Dibuttylphthalate (DBP) was used to prevent chips in nail polish. It has been linked to birth defects particularly in boys. The problem was not due to absorption through the skin or nail but by inhaling it.
Formaldehyde is a carcinogen linked to cancer and has in the past been used in nail hardeners.
Toluene is considered a neuro toxin and long term exposure has been linked to liver and kidney damage.
These should not be in any of the nail products that you use but unless you check the ingredient list (if listed) on the nail polish or the company web site, you can't be sure. While major cosmetic companies have agreed that these products are dangerous if you are buying from an off shore company that is more interested in instant profits you just don't know what you are buying. There are companies that specifically sell more natural choices of nail polish but so far (as of the date this article was written) there is nothing on the market that is completely natural that I could find. There are also other ingredients other than these three that are now being discovered as dangerous. The Canadian government has just listed CI Pigment Red 3 as toxic and the next step is to ban it but until then it can show up in nail polish.
From the 1970's to the 1990's nail fashion exploded with false nails, graphics, decals, jewelry and extreme lengths. Some women tend to hold on to a look a little too long and if you are doing your hair, make up and nails the same way you were 20 years ago, it's time for a update.
Incredibly long nails can look trashy and nothing dates you more than having the same style you did in high school. Nail styles continue to evolve with new ideas coming out every season so if you love the new looks and have the time and money to follow them then enjoy them but if want to change to the more sophisticated natural nail here are some hints on how to achieve it at home with very little money.
You should be the only one using your manicure tools. Do not share them with family members as you can contaminate each other with fungus and infections.
Your hands should be clean before you start with no dirt under your nails. Depending on what type of work or house work you do might have to use a nail brush to get your nails and hands clean. If your hands are in very rough shape you can soak your nails in warm water that has a drop of bath oil or bath soap in it.
The soaking will soften the skin around the nail and you can gently push the skin off your nail with your finger tip or finger nail. You don't need to use any instruments to do this and if your hands are not bad you can just massage moisturizer into the skin and push the skin off your nail. There is no reason to cut the cuticle if you continue to moisturize it unless there is a tear in the skin that you don't want to get deeper. If you make it a routine before you get to bed every night to moisturize your nails and push back the cuticles you will never have any problems with them.
The trend is towards shorter nails and a square nail with a rounded edge. Everyone's nails are different and you might not be able to do this if your nails are very brittle or if you are very active with you hands as the nail can get caught and torn.
You can shape your nails to mimic the curve of your finger tip or to mimic the curve of your nail moons (lunula) or to mirror the curve of your cuticle. Use an emery board to shape your nails. The standard advice has been to only shape and file you nails in one direction, but if you have been filling for years in both directions with no horrible results then why switch.
All your nails should be of the same length so you have to file them down to the length of the shortest nail. Having nails of different lengths is a very unkempt look. It depends on the depth of your nail bed on how short you might want to keep your nails.
In general an eighth of an inch will make it just shorter than your finger tip but everyone's nails are different. Using a nail whitening pencil that you can buy at any beauty or drug store (they look exactly like a pencil and the ingredients include clay, oils and white colourant) draw under your nail to give a clean fresh french polish look. The nail whitening pencil should always have a sharp point to do the best job. You could finish the look by buffing your nails with a natural nail buff that includes glycerin, almond oil and beeswax or you could use a non toxic clear nail polish.
There are products that suggest they can strengthen you nails but they are not strengthening the actual nail but adding a barrier on top or trying to embed a chemical into your nail.
Healthy nails start with a healthy diet, if your nails are truely in bad shape you should examine your diet to see what nutrients you might be missing from it. If you totally refuse to eat greens then the results will be poor health and the visual will be chipped and cracking nails.
If you get into the habit of filing, moisturizing, whitening and buffing your nails daily then your hands will always be in perfect conditions. Do it just before you go to bed or first thing in the morning like brushing your teeth. If you do decide to use nail polish then make sure that you use a non toxic formula, you can research brands before you go to the store. Get in the habit of protecting your hands from harsh chemicals or dirty jobs by wearing appropriate work gloves.
Having your nails look naturally beautiful is very inexpensive and takes very little time but the results are lovely and add that extra layer of simple elegance to how you look.
Photography and Content
Copyright Ingrid Talpak 2009