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Non Toxic Vintage Nail Polish Shades, 50s to the 00s

These non toxic vintage nail polish shades will add a touch of nostalgia to your manicure

By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

With its sleek shades and awesome variations like holographic, iridescent, cracked, glitter and matte hues, you’d think that nail polish is a newish cosmetic invention. But you’d be very, very wrong.

In fact, the cosmetic dates back to the ancient Egyptians. Your class status was denoted by the color of your nails: the lower classes wore paler shades, whereas members of high society sported bright red fingernails, thanks to a henna boost — you can even see reddened nails on the corpses of mummified pharaohs!

The Chinese were also known to paint their nails, as far back as 3,000 BC. The metallic shades we think of as being so chic today were actually even around in 600 BC, when Zhou Dynasty elites used gold and silver on their fingernails.

Edgy black polish – which today, we associate with grunge and Goths – was the height of fashion way, way back in ancient China, and it was made from a pretty healthy combination of beeswax, egg whites, gelatine, vegetable dyes and gum Arabic.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the manicure as a beauty routine wasn’t very common, but a certain care for fingertips was being introduced, with very demure and moderate color added to the fingertips through natural dyes like beetroot.

But the kind of colored nail varnish that we use today didn’t make an appearance until the 1920s, when early nail polish formulas were created using all natural ingredients such as lavender oil, Carmine, oxide tin, and bergamot oil.

After that, things got more toxic. Post World War 1, the invention of glossy car paint and more chemicals meant that formaldehyde, toluene, DBP, formaldehyde resin and camphor were introduced to polishes. Not good! But no one really realised how bad they were for you until recently.

During the thirties, a romantic flair took over, and nail varnishes would match lipsticks, remaining sweetly subdued. The following decade was largely shaped by the war, and women were working in factories and handling heavy machinery – taking care of your nails was a pretty low priority for most.

But in the 1950s, actress Rita Hayworth well and truly launched the trend for nail polish with her bold, red fingertips that were seen by millions in her movies.

Today, we’re living in a postmodern era where almost anything goes: you can pick and choose what you think best suits you from the trends that have traversed the past century.

And the best part? Though there are still many polishes that are polluted with nasty, harmful chemicals, there are also loads that have eliminated the 5 most toxic ones – formaldehyde, toluene, DBP, formaldehyde resin and camphor – and are now even vegan friendly and gluten free!

Here, we’ve picked out some non toxic vintage nail polish shades that have been popular over the past 50 years that you can revive for your own retro manicures – no matter which decade you prefer.

Non Toxic Vintage Nail Polish Shades From the 50s to the 00s


The 50s: Classic Reds 

When we look at the vintage posters of cute pin-up models, one of their hallmarks has always been their feminine, seductive red nails, which usually matched their lipstick hue, too.

One conscious brand that is reviving that vampy flair is Smith & Cult, whose metallic crimson shade flatters all skin tones and is perfect for party season. Prefer a more classic, matte look? You’ll love NCLA’s Rush Hour!




non toxic vintage nail polish shades

non toxic vintage nail polish shades


The 60s: Pop Art Brights 

In the 1960’s the aesthetic was dictated by pop artists, including Andy Warhol, Peter Blake and Roy Lichtenstein. They used bright, almost cartoon-like colours in their work, and this was reflected in beauty trends, too – models sported a rainbow of eye shadow, lipstick and nail hues.

Want to recreate the look? Kure Bazaar makes a wonderfully citrusy orange called Coquette, while Mavala’s Mexico shade is a pop of grapey purple – one of our favorite non toxic vintage nail polish shades!

Image credit: MOMA

Non Toxic Vintage Nail Shades

non toxic vintage nail polish shades


The 70s: Disco Fever

Celebrating the disco- based hedonism of the 70s, Mavala’s Night Fever, from their Disco Collection brings out the ultra-modern and ultra-chic side of retro style by reflecting the sparkle of the famous disco ball.

Prefer a bit of glittery colour? Gabriel Cosmetic’s Stardust offers a sexy shimmer, but that’s not all – the brand offers a whole rainbow of 10-free disco-inspired colours that will get you singing the tunes from Saturday Night Fever! But one individually for $8.50, or the gift set of 5 for $29.50.

Finally, Pacifica’s Rainbow Top Coat will add a kaleidoscope of color to any hue you use!


Non Toxic Vintage Nail Shades


Non Toxic Vintage Nail Shades


The 80s: Power Hues

“I’m bold, I’m powerful, and I’m going to get to the top!” was the main mantra of the 1980s. Films such as Wall Street, pop stars like Madonna and Cyndi Lauper and more and more women entering the workplace set the tone – this was all about being bold and making money!

Capture the feeling of the 80s today with the shade ‘Between the Sheets  by Deborah Lippmann, an exceptional non-toxic manicurist who has collaborated with the likes of Valentino and Vogue. The brazen pink reflects the vibe of the 80s, as does Kure Bazaar’s unapologetic Saffron.

Image: Vogue/Flickr




Non Toxic Vintage Nail Shades



The 90s: Grunge

The musical subculture that emerged in Seattle reached peak popularity during the 90s. The music came from Alice in Chains, Hole, Pearl Jam, and of course, Nirvana, and the style was androgynous, thrifty and low key.

In terms of beauty and makeup shades, dark tones dominated the scene, with vampire-reds, dirty greys and even black dominating lip, eye and nail hues. To replicate a grunge nail look, try Absolute Black by non-toxic nail varnish brand Jin Soon, or Smith & Cult’s sparkly yet muddy Dirty Baby.


Non Toxic Vintage Nail ShadesNon Toxic Vintage Nail Shades


The 00s: Healthy Nudes

With the new millennium, nail polish went full circle returning to the trend of showing off gently nude, healthy color on the fingertips, as women did in the early twentieth century. It was also a time when eco-consciousness started to take off, and nude and natural was (and still is?!) all the rage.

Some great, 7-free nail polishes to try to get this simple, classic look are Simplicity by Nailberry, or Nude Forever Mine by Ella+Mila.





Main image credit here.

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