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8 Glossy Facts About Nail Polish

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You may be able to recite every last pun-y name in Essie’s line of lacquers and know which shade is in trend (Is it greige? Marsala?). But there is plenty more to learn about the makeup you swipe on your fingers and toes. Read on to hammer in eight fun facts about nail polish.

1. Nail polish has a long history.

Painting one's nails goes back as early as 3000 BCE. There is archaeological evidence of the Ancient Babylonians painting their nails before they went into battle—with a solid gold manicure set. In Ancient China, during the Ming Dynasty, people would use formulas made from beeswax, egg whites, gelatin and vegetable dyes.

2. Only the best could wear red …

The paint has worn off, but we're going to go ahead and assume Nefertiti was wearing red // Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

In Ancient Egypt, nail polish was used to signify class rankings. Those in the lower classes wore nude or light colors while the more elite preferred red shades (naturally). Nefertiti is said to have painted hers ruby colors while Cleopatra dyed her tips a rusty hue with the juice of the henna plant.

3. Polish was developed from car paint!

In the 1920s, makeup artist Michelle Menard adapted the enamel used for cars to create a polish for nails. The formula she crafted was popular with flappers. Their preferred style—dubbed the Moon Manicure—was to paint only the middle of the nail, leaving both the tip and the cuticle bare. At the time, Menard worked for a company called Charles Revson – you might know it today as Revlon..

4. A dentist invented artificial nails.

In 1934, dentist Maxwell Lappe came up with a product he called Nu Nails — an artificial nail created specifically for nail biters. Dentists must have a thing for nail care, because the first modern acrylic nails were developed by dentist Fred Slack.

5. Hollywood has always set the trends.


With a little help from Technicolor, Rita Hayworth became known for her red nails in the 1940s. Five decades later, Uma Thurman’s Vamp polish (which has since been re-released by Chanel as Rouge Noir) pulled focus in the 1994 cult film Pulp Fiction. The shade became one of the company’s most in-demand products.

6. French tips probably aren't really French.

We have Hollywood to thank for more neutral nail trends, too. In 1975, as the story goes, Jeff Pink—founder of the nail polish brand Orly—created the French manicure to expedite the makeup process for actresses making multiple costume changes. However, some say the look does in fact date back to 1930s Paris, when Max Factor developed the clean and polished look 

7. Neon shades are actually illegal.

Well, sort of. Certain colorants used in your favorite day-glo shade haven’t yet been approved by the FDA. But OPI has launched a line using formulas that have been FDA-approved.

8. Today’s formulas are made with some weird stuff.


The main ingredient in regular nail polish is something called nitrocellulose — originally known as guncotton, it’s made of plant fiber and the stuff that makes TNT explode. (Don’t worry, it’s also used in products such as ping pong balls.) The nitrocellulose is dissolved in a solvent called ethyl acetate. Once the nail polish goes on your nail, the solvent evaporates leaving the nitrocellulose to dry into a solid—and pretty!—film.

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Researchers Pinpoint the Genes Behind the Durian's Foul Stench
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Durian is a popular fruit in parts of southeast Asia. It's also known for having the most putrid, off-putting odor of any item sold in the produce section. Even fans of durian know why the fruit gets a bad rap, but what exactly causes its divisive scent is less obvious. Determined to find the answer, a team of researchers funded by "a group of anonymous durian lovers" mapped the fruit's genome, as reported by the BBC.

The study, published in the journal Nature Genetics [PDF], contains data from the first-ever complete genetic mapping of a durian fruit. It confirms that durian's excess stinkiness comes from sulfur, a chemical element whose scent is often compared to that of rotten eggs.

Analysis of the fruit's chemical makeup has been done in the past, so the idea that sulfur is a major contributor to its signature smell is nothing new. What is new is the identification of the specific class of sulfur-producing genes. These genes pump out sulfur at a "turbocharged" rate, which explains why the stench is powerful enough to have durian banned in some public areas. It may seem like the smell is a defense mechanism to ward off predators, but the study authors write that it's meant to have the opposite effect. According to the paper, "it is possible that linking odor and ripening may provide an evolutionary advantage for durian in facilitating fruit dispersal." In other words, the scent attracts hungry primates that help spread the seeds of ripe durian fruits by consuming them.

The revelation opens the door to genetically modified durian that are tweaked to produce less sulfur and therefore have a milder taste and smell. But such a product would likely inspire outrage from the food's passionate fans. While the flavor profile has been compared to rotten garbage and dead animal meat, it's also been praised for its "overtones of hazelnut, apricot, caramelized banana, and egg custard" by those who appreciate its unique character.

[h/t BBC]

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Eye-Catching Videos Show the Beauty of Chemical Reactions
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For those of us with only a passing high-school knowledge of chemistry, the scientific discipline can feel pretty abstract. But new online film series Envisioning Chemistry brings chemical reactions to life as works of art, visualizing chemistry in high resolution.

Created through a collaboration between the science visualization studio Beauty of Science and the Chinese Chemical Society, the series is a follow-up to Beautiful Chemistry, a 2014 project that included video of chemical reactions, animations, illustrations, and diagrams to visualize the history and practice of chemistry.

The images in Envisioning Chemistry were made using “high-resolution microscopes, infrared thermal imaging cameras, high-speed cameras, and 4K Ultra HD cameras, to reveal beauty of chemical reactions like never before,” according to the project’s website.

Envisioning Chemistry is designed as a teaching tool, so each of the films also has an associated worksheet so that teachers can use them in the classroom. There are 15 films total, and the creators hope to add more in the future.

The films explore chemistry topics like precipitation reactions, metal displacement, and electrodeposition, using elemental metals like copper, tin, lead, and zinc. “If you think you know what metals look like, well, think again!” as one video warns. By the end of the films, you may even know what words like electrodeposition mean.

Envisioning Chemistry Collection I: Beauty of Chemistry from Beauty of Science on Vimeo.


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