This is an excerpt from a fascinating book by Jo Manning about Grace Dalrymple Elliott, a celebrated courtesan from the British Regency era.
"Those coveted white complexions held a deadly secret: ceruse. Not all women had naturally pale, ivory-colored complexions. Nature could be assisted by the use of a mixture of white lead and vinegar, a thick paste that was applied as foundation to the face, neck, and bosom. The first record of its use was in Tudor times, the 1500s. Not only was a desirable white complexion achieved, but this concoction successfully hid what smallpox left behind: pits and scars. (Acne would also be covered.) Unfortunately, white lead was a killer. Mercury, used for facial peels, was deadly as well. Vermilion (mercuric sulfide), used to paint lips and cheeks, was also dangerous. Belladonna, which made the eyes sparkle (it dilated the pupils and whitened the whites), was a toxic hallucinogen. Applied to the cheeks, it was a kind of blusher, as the plant irritated the skin and caused redness. Safer cosmetics were prepared from madder, cochineal, and ochre, for lips and cheeks, and kohl (powdered antimony), to line the eyelids. Overapplication of ceruse would, like today's Botox, limit a user's ability to smile; cracks would appear on the thickly used base. There was also a good possibility the user would die, as a number of aristocratic women and their demimondaine sisters did. Women of the lower classes, with no money to purchase these artificial aids to beauty, were likely to live longer."