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What's an American manicure?

How to Apply It
You'll need a steady hand to give yourself an American manicure at home.
You'll need a steady hand to give yourself an American manicure at home.
Jupiter Images/Getty Images/ThinkStock

If you've ever done your own French manicure, you've got a pretty good idea of how the American manicure goes.

It's not a one-step procedure. Several coats, several colors and several techniques are involved. You may want to purchase a kit that comes with stencil guides to keep the tip color crisp and even -- few people have a very steady hand when applying their own polish, especially when such precision is required.

For the American manicure, you'll need:

  • Nail polish remover
  • Cotton balls (or squares)
  • Hand moisturizer (optional)
  • Cuticle pusher
  • Nail file
  • Nail buff (optional)
  • Clear base coat
  • Sheer, neutral all-over color (nude, pale pink, beige)
  • Opaque, neutral tip color (ivory, off-white, pale nude)
  • Clear top coat

You'll begin by preparing your hands (no point in having beautiful nails if your hands are dry and coarse): Massage a healthy amount of nail-friendly moisturizer into hands and nails. Remove excess from nails using a lint-free cloth.

Next, prepare your nails by pushing the cuticles back carefully to create an evenly accessible nail surface. Then file to your desired shape (round or squared, typically), and use the buffer to smooth and shine up the nail surface.

Time to apply the polish. Be sure to do only one thin, even coat each:

  1. A clear base coat
  2. The ivory tip (using the sticky stencil or going freehand), only on the part with no skin underneath
  3. A coat of neutral, allover color
  4. A clear top coat

The second and third steps can be reversed if you prefer to have the tip stand out a bit more.

Remember to set aside some time, ideally an hour, for your nails to dry before touching anything.

You'll probably have to finish up by cleaning any stray polish off your fingers and cuticles -- use a thin instrument for this, like a polish-remover pen, so you don't end up removing part of your manicure.

If you'd like to skip that last step (and get a hand massage and heavenly paraffin wax treatment while you're at it), visit a salon. A professional American manicure will only run you about $15 to $25 -- not too much more than you'll spend on several colors of high-quality polish to do it at home.