Nail polish seems to have been originated by the Chinese around 3000 B.C. The Japanese and Italians thought to have been the first ones to actually to use nail polish. The Chinese used a colored lacquer, made from a combination of gum arabic, egg whites, gelatin and beeswax. They also used a mixture consisting of mashed rose, orchid and impatien petals combined with alum. This mixture, when applied to nails for a few hours or overnight, leaves a color ranging from pink to red. The Egyptians used reddish-brown stains derived from the henna plant to color their nails as well as the tips of their fingers. Today, some people still use henna dyes to draw intricate, temporary designs on their hands in a practice known as Mehndi.
During the Chou Dynasty of 600 B.C., Chinese royalty often chose gold and silver to enhance their nails. A fifteenth-century Ming manuscript cites red and black as the colors chosen by royalty for centuries previous. The Egyptians also used nail color to signify social order, with shades of red at the top. Queen Nefertiti, wife of the king Akhenaton, colored her finger and toe nails ruby red and Cleopatra favored a deep rust red. Women of lower rank who colored their nails were permitted only pale hues, and no woman dared to flaunt the color worn by the queen or king. Incas were known for decorating their fingernails with pictures of eagles.