Prev NEXT  


What's a French manicure?

How to Apply It

A French manicure has to be perfect to look right -- no bumps, wavy lines or steaks.
A French manicure has to be perfect to look right -- no bumps, wavy lines or steaks.

Some stylists will tell you it's elegant; others will say it's outdated. Everyone, however, agrees that when it's sloppily executed, it's kind of sad.

A French manicure falls into the "if you're not going to do it right, don't do it at all" category. Thick, pasty tips with smudgy edges do not an elegant statement make.


If you're going to do it at home, set aside a bit of time. It'll take more than five minutes. How much more depends on whether it's your first time or your fiftieth, but the steps you'll follow are the same either way.

You'll need:

  • Cotton balls
  • Nail polish remover
  • Hand moisturizer (optional)
  • Nail file
  • Buffer (optional)
  • Cuticle pusher
  • Clear, base-coat polish
  • Sheer, neutral-color polish
  • Opaque, white polish
  • Clear, top-coat polish

Step 1: Out with the Old

Start with a clean slate. Using cotton balls and nail polish remover, take off all traces of previous polish.

Step 2: Prep Your Hands

Using a nail-healthy moisturizer (something with vitamin E works nicely), slather your hands and forearms with softness. You can give yourself a little massage while you're at it.

Step 3: Prep Your Nails

Wipe off all excess moisturizer, and then push the cuticles back gently with a cuticle pusher, until they only slightly frame the nail. Take your nail file and shape the tips, (round, square, or somewhere in between). Finish off with a quick buffing over the surface of the nails to make a smooth canvas.

Next, apply your base coat. One coat of clear will do. If you like, you can precede that by a ridge filler to create an extra-even surface.

Step 4: Color Your Nails

The order in which you apply your color and your white depends on the look you're going for. For a stark-white tip, you'll apply the neutral first -- three strokes, sides and center. Don't apply more than one coat. The streakiness will even out as it dries.

Then you'll apply the white tip. You can do this using tiny, sticky stencils included in a kit, free-hand (one smooth stroke width-wise), or with a white nail crayon (less common). You only want to color the part of the nail with no skin underneath.

If you want to soften the white, reverse those steps so you're painting the neutral over the white tip.

Step 6: Finish It Off

A quick top coat will give the manicure a finished look. DO NOT do anything with your hands until the polish is completely dry. You'll just mess up your hard work.

This home manicure will probably save you money. You can buy a kit for under $10, and you may be able to put together your own for even less (but if you can avoid it, don't go with the cheapest nail polish -- it's not going to look as nice). But if it's not a choice between feeding your kids and getting your nails done, you might want to splurge on a pro job. A French manicure at a salon, which typically runs between $15 and $25, won't result in polish all over your fingers.

Plus, you'll get a hand massage from someone else, which is so much nicer.

Related Articles

More Great Links


  • Fierro, Dina. "French Manicures - Perennial or Passe?" Beauty News NYC.
  • The French Manicure. BBC. June 29, 2004.
  • French Manicure. Elegant Nails.
  • French Manicure.
  • The History of the Manicure. CareFair.
  • Rukavishnikova, Irina. Manicure History. LuxeMag. December 4, 2008.