Style at Their Fingertips

By Melissa Meisel, Associate Editor | November 4, 2013

A look at 50 years of nail polish innovations.

The concept of decorating ones nails, what we call nail polish today, can be traced to antiquity as the concept of painting nails goes back more than 5,000 years. To our knowledge, this inspiration was born in Asian civilization, most probably India and China.

“It spread throughout the world and was happily accepted by many different cultures. The real outburst and love for painting and grooming nails, known now as a manicure, began at the beginning of the 20th century,” said Faina Ritz, founder and chemist at nail polish brand Duri Cosmetics, Brooklyn, NY. “From the beginning, the manicure was a sign of higher society. However, the first company that understood the commercial profitability of putting nail polish on the big scale was Revlon.”

Charles Revson invented the first ever nail polish in 1932. It was a nitrocellulose-based formula and was launched in red and pink. Since that time, traditional nail polishes have changed significantly, observed Jan Arnold, co-founder of CND, San Diego. CA. 
“During the time between the 1930s and now, pigments, colors and effects have changed, as have solvents,” she said.

According to Ritz of Duri, other big companies like Chanel and Estée Lauder followed and found the same success in nail polish.  Strictly salon and professional brands also developed their own niche among the big companies and earned a devoted following.

During the past 50 to 60 years, the beauty industry was invaded with “glamorous” celebrities who brought their own vision and started new trends, noted Ritz. It all started with the “stunning” red nail polish worn by Rita Hayworth in her films in the 1950s.  Red became a classic for all times.  

Seeing Red
“The greatest nail polish innovation over the last 50 years was the use of deep red lacquer on the nails of early Hollywood movie and television starlets,” agreed Katie Saxton, nail expert and founder of Custom Nail Solutions, Dallas, TX. “This glamorous polish trend blew up and remains popular to this day, because a deep red manicure proved to instantly add a dash of sophistication and mystery to the wearer.”

In 1964, Clairol rolled out a non-settling nail enamel, which impacted the industry because it was “easier to use and a more consistent product,” noted Suzanne Grayson, who, along with her husband Bob, are co-founders of Grayson Associates, a consulting firm that’s based in San Juan Capistrano. CA. She also points to the 1995 release of “Vamp” nail color by Chanel and the 1996 rollout of Maybelline Express Nail Color as pivotal moments in time for the nail color sector.

Jin Soon Choi, founder of the JINsoon Hand and Foot Spas in New York City and the JINsoon Nail Polish Line, agreed that Vamp was a pivotal point in nail polish history, as was the creation of the French manicure in the 1970s.

“Chanel Vamp was the first fashion-related nail color and became an instant icon. Because of this color, Chanel became a trendsetter in the nail category. Vamp truly changed people’s way of thinking about nail polish as it related to high fashion.”
Choi also referenced millennial nail art as a noteworthy place on the nail polish timeline.

“In the 2000s, nail art stickers and 3D gel nail art from Japan is key. Pop stars, especially hip-hop artists, started wearing nail art stickers and gel nail art in either a cute or over-the-top way, making them true fashion accessories,” she told Happi.

Big Business
The nail category has enjoyed strong growth due to women turning to at-home nail care options, particularly as product innovations like gel manicures allow them to replicate salon services at home, noted Mintel in its report “Nail Color and Care – US.” 
In addition, new product launches have proliferated in the category, particularly as nail polish and nail art have become closely linked to fashion trends.

The beauty industry generally benefits when consumers have higher levels of disposable income, noted Mintel. However, the nail care industry has experienced strong growth in recent years, despite a relatively weak economy. Value brands of nail polish are often priced at less than $5 a bottle and even premium brands are often available for less than $10.  The affordability of nail polish, combined with the recent innovations, makes nail products an affordable splurge for many. Furthermore, teen/tween girls are big business for the nail business.

“Similar to lip makeup, girls are introduced to nail products at young ages,” noted Shannon Romanowski, beauty and personal care analyst at market research firm Mintel. “The popularity of nail products is partly due to the abundance of options these cosmetics offer.”

In the nail cosmetics category for 52-week period ending Aug. 11, 2013, sales rose 8.8% to $1.7 billion in total US multi-outlets (supermarkets, drugstores, mass market retailers, military commissaries and select club and dollar retail chains), according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm. Actual nail polish accounted for the majority of these sales, with a 14.8% leap to $903.3 million.

Key Players
Nail color brands like Essie, OPI, Deborah Lippmann and Butter continue to churn out fresh hues and unique textures. Recent innovations over the years include celebrity collaborations—for example, OPI joined celebrity partner Gwen Stefani in announcing seven new limited edition nail lacquers for 2014, featuring standout color in breakthrough finishes. Highlights from the collection include a bold red lacquer that pays homage to Stefani’s signature lipstick, a new semi-matte satin finish in shades of gold and black, and a mirrored chrome paired with a special base coat.

Other breakthrough concepts included crackled/shattered finishes, matte, neon, quick dry, glitter, nail art/tattoos, nail pens, DBP-free and “Liquid Sand” topcoats. There is even Twinkle Nail, an innovation out of Korea in which nail art lights up via LED when your smart phone is ringing. This sticker can also be used a base to layer gel nails or regular nail polish. It hits the US next month.
Although multinationals have dominated the beauty industry, independents have made a name for themselves in nail polishes and treatments. Consider co-founders of Duri Cosmetics and mother/son duo Faina Ritz and David Dubrow, who moved to the US from the former USSR in 1978. In 1989, they launched Duri Cosmetics, which later expanded to nail lacquers and treatments. The brand now introduces five new color collections each year and, in 2012, Walmart began selling Duri in its beauty aisles.

According to Arnold, her company had “dramatic innovation” in 2010 with CND Shellac, which merges the best features of polish (shine and flow) and the best features of gel (toughness and longevity) plus new science (easy on and easy off) to create the first-ever Power Polish that could last for 14-plus days, have a mirror finish and zero dry time. The brand rolled out Vinylux in 2013; a self-adhering color coat that adheres securely to the natural nail without the need for a base coat and the non-nitrocellulose top coat contains cross-linkers that continue to strengthen with exposure to natural light.

“The greatest nail polish innovation in the past 50 years has to be gel polish,” said John Mandelker, president, Cutex Brands in St. Louis, MO. “For women who love to keep their nails looking freshly manicured for an extended period, gel polish proves to be the best polishing option. Through the gel technology, women are finding excitement and enthusiasm again in getting their manicures, they know their polish will remain looking good for longer than a day or two.”

Other key elements in the history of nail polish include the major acquisitions along the way—think OPI being bought by Coty and L’Oréal acquiring Essie in 2010, and Sinful Colors joining the Revlon portfolio in 2011.

A Colorful Outlook
What are future trends to look out for in nail polish for the next 50 years?

According to Arnold at CND, technology will continue to evolve, offering women even more choices, greater efficiencies, nail protection and adornment options.

“The health and safety of the natural nail is the primary concern, so women can express their fashion and art without fear of breakdown or problems,” explained Arnold.

“Color choices will include incredible effects and finishes we can only dream of today.”

Mintel sees the other side of the coin; it contends that maintaining the current level of new product launch activity will prove to be challenging, particularly as the category is becoming more saturated.

Mandelker of Cutex predicts that the future trends in polish will gravitate to the multi-use products.

“Many women need a polish that is effective in maintaining a great looking manicure, but can also work on another nail issue they are experiencing,” he explained. “That issue can be cuticle control or nail strengthening.”

In terms of style and new colors, there are no boundaries, noted Ritz of Duri Cosmetics.  

“We already treat our nails like royalty, adorned with gold, diamonds and intricate designs. It is an art where the sky is the limit.”

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