The history of cosmetics spans at least 6000 years and is present in almost every society on earth. Some argue that cosmetic body art was the earliest form of ritual in human culture, dating over 100,000 years ago from the African Middle Stone Age. The evidence for this comes in the form of utilised red mineral pigments (red ochre) including crayons associated with the emergence of Homo sapiens in Africa.
In the Middle Ages it was thought sinful and immoral to wear makeup by Church leaders, but many women still did so. From the Renaissance up until the 20th century the lower classes had to work outside, in agricultural jobs and the typically light-colored European's skin was darkened by exposure to the sun. The higher a person was in status, the more leisure time he or she had to spend indoors, which kept their skin pale. Thus, the highest class of European society were pale resulting in European men and mostly women attempting to lighten their skin directly, or using white powder on their skin to look more aristocratic. A variety of products were used, including white lead paint which also may have contained arsenic, which also poisoned women and killed many. Queen Elizabeth I of England was one well-known user of white lead, with which she created a look known as "the Mask of Youth". Portraits of the queen by Nicholas Hilliard from later in her reign are illustrative of her influential style.
Pale faces were a trend during the European Middle Ages. In the 16th century, women would bleed themselves to achieve pale skin. Spanish prostitutes wore pink makeup to contract pale skin. 13th century Italian women wore red lipstick to show that they were upperclass
Chinese people began to stain their fingernails with gum arabic, gelatin, beeswax and egg white from around 3000 BCE. The colors used represented social class: Chou dynasty (first millennium BC) royals wore gold and silver; later royals wore black or red. The lower classes were forbidden to wear bright colors on their nails.
Flowers play an important decorative role in China. Legend has it that once on the 7th day of the 1st lunar month, while Princess Shouyang (壽陽公主), daughter of Emperor Wu of Liu Song (劉宋武帝), was resting under the eaves of Hanzhang Palace near the plum trees after wandering in the gardens, a plum blossom drifted down onto her fair face, leaving a floral imprint on her forehead that enhanced her beauty further. The court ladies were said to be so impressed, that they started decorating their own foreheads with a small delicate plum blossom design. This is also the mythical origin of the floral fashion, meihua zhuang (梅花妝; literally "plum blossom makeup"), that originated in the Southern Dynasties (420–589) and became popular amongst ladies in the Tang (618–907) and Song (960–1279) dynasties.