What's an American manicure?

An American manicure looks a lot like its French cousin -- just a touch more natural.
An American manicure looks a lot like its French cousin -- just a touch more natural.

Nail color, like so many seemingly innocuous choices in life, can say more about us than we realize. Historically speaking, this is especially true: In ancient China, the color of one's nails could indicate social status. Ancient Egypt supposedly had the same type of manicure ranking.

Modern manicures may be a bit less specific to social rank, but the general feeling holds true: Choice of nail color and style can make a statement. Certainly, pink-rhinestone-coated nails say something very different from, say, a French manicure.


The Frenchie, to some the elegant go-to style, is no longer the only choice to achieve a near-natural look that is nonetheless luxuriously manicured. A more recent development in nail news posits the "American manicure" as an alternative to the classic white-tipped look.

Was it invented in America? Who knows? (The French manicure may or may not have come from France, after all.)

To the untrained observer, American-manicured nails may look exactly like French ones, but they are subtly, perhaps significantly different. The American manicure foregoes the classic, stark-white tip for a more neutral one, creating an even more natural, blended look. Rather than painting (or airbrushing) the nail tip white, an American manicure goes with an ivory, off-white or pale nude.

Some experts claim the nail shape changes as well, from a squared tip in the French style to a rounded American one. Others say no tip shape is especially associated with either style.

Regardless, it's an update on the classic French manicure that can be a nice change for women looking for a barely made-up appearance. In this article, we'll see how to apply your own American manicure for that "Are those perfect nails even polished?" effect.

Meet the "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.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

More Great Links

  • American French Manicure. YGo Nail Care. April 30, 2010.http://nailcare.ygoy.com/updates/nail-care/american-french-manicure-how-to-get-the-american-manicure-style/
  • The American Manicure. Manicure.com.http://www.manicure.com/articles/Types-of-Manicures/The-American-Manicure/2?aid=6
  • American Manicure. YGo Nail Care.http://nailcare.ygoy.com/updates/manicure-tips/american-manicure/
  • Fierro, Dina. "French Manicures -- Perennial or Passé?" Beauty News NYC.http://www.beautynewsnyc.com/beauty/french-manicures-%E2%80%93-perennial-or-passebn-asks-the-eternal-question/
  • The History of the Manicure. CareFair.http://www.carefair.com/beauty/nails/History_of_the_Manicure_4997.html
  • What's the difference between a French and American manicure? Daily Mail UK.http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-31717/Whats-difference-French-American-manicure.html