How to Do Your Own French Manicure

French Manicure How to Do it Yourself at Home

@betina_goldstein / Design by Camden Dechert

If we had to choose the most classic nail art of all time it would be a French manicure. While we’re always looking for new nail designs, colors, and textures that take over our IG feeds, this simple nail art is an eternally classic look and it's perfect for any occasion—from a lunch meeting to a semi-formal dinner, as well as one of the favorite nail looks for brides.

Popular since the 1920s, it's all about having white tips on light pink or transparent nail polish. As the delicate tip may seem difficult to get, we usually rely on a nail salon. But why not give it a try to improve your DIY French manicure at home? Once you get these top tips for bringing the look to life, you'll feel more confident to go creative with it and to try mixing up the colors and finishes.

Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how to do a French manicure at home.

Meet the Expert

  • Darlene Sritapan is a licensed nail tech and OPI’s North American education and capability manager.
  • Natalia Bychkova is a nail educator and founder of the Nail Art House, an Austin-based nail studio and education center that specializes in modern Russian manicure techniques.
01 of 08

Clean Your Nails

"A classic French mani should look clean so it’s not only about the white painted line but also a well-prepared nail," Bychkova says. Wash your hands and remove old nail polish with an acetone-free polish remover. If you need to, use an orangewood stick with the end covered in cotton and dipped in nail polish remover for the edges.

02 of 08

Give Nails Your Favorite Shape

Although French manicure can be suitable for every type of nail plate and shape/length, Bychkova suggests that the middle almond or short square shape looks best for French nail tips. "You just have to be aware they don’t have broken edges so your line will be symmetrical," she adds.

03 of 08

Buff Nail Plate

buffered nail plate
Natalia Bychkova

One little mani-secret is that gently buffed nails help polish to stay better. Sritapan suggests that the key to proper buffing is to use a high grit buffer, such as OPI's 240 grit with a light touch, and focus around the cuticle area. "There is a misconception that buffing is bad because it removes layers of the nails but that’s only if it’s done incorrectly (low grit) and excessively (over buffing)," she explains.

04 of 08

Hydrate Your Hands and Cuticles

Make sure to soak your cuticles in oil before pushing them back. Then, exfoliate your hands with a body scrub and apply hand cream. "Before getting ready for the base coat, dehydrate the nail plate with alcohol or nail polish remover to remove any hand cream from the nails," says Bychkova.

05 of 08

Apply the Base

nail base
Natalia Bychkova

Now, onto the actual painting of your nails. For a French manicure, you'll need two shades of color: one for the nail, and one for the tip. You can have all sorts of fun with French manicures, but here we'll keep it classic. Sritapan recommends starting with one thin layer of OPI Natural Nail Base Coat ($11), to get maximum adhesion. "This one also prevents nails from getting stained or yellow," she adds. According to her, professional manicures last longer than home manicures because nail techs never skip the base coat.

06 of 08

Paint the Tip of the Nail

nail french manicure
Natalia Bychkova

A straight or curved white strip is up to you and your nail shape, but if you want your nails to appear longer, let the polish curve with your natural nail. "Using a fine brush, start from points of growth and make a line as a “smile” towards the free edge from the left side and right side," Bychkova instructs. "Then, get them together and provide a “smile” line on the free edge." To get a nice line with just one layer, opt for a polar white color like OPI's Alpine Snow ($10) or Luxio Akzent's Polar ($17).

nail french manicure
Natalia Bychkova

When free handing, it's best to keep the brush still and roll just your finger to get a nice even curved line. You'll also have a steadier hand if you hold the brush between the thumb and middle finger while resting your forefinger on the top of the cap.

07 of 08

Top Your Manicure Off With a Sheer Pink Shade

This is the mani-approved way to make your French nails look a lot more natural. "A sheer pink shade helps hide any nail imperfections or yellowing," Sritapan explains. Top your manicure off with a sheer pink shade like OPI's Baby, Take a Vow ($21), before applying a topcoat. 

08 of 08

Finish With a Thin Layer of Topcoat

nail french manicure
Natalia Bychkova

After cleaning up any stray polish with a Q-tip soaked in nail polish remover, you'll need to keep this art lasting as long as possible. To seal and set your at-home French manicure, finally finish with a thin layer of a shiny topcoat. "My favorite top coat is Luxio Shine On ($20) because it's not sticky and keeps your nails for so long," says Bychkova.

  • How much does a French manicure cost?

    It will depend on which nail salon you go to, but in NYC a standard manicure typically ranges from $20 to $25 for regular polish and $45-$50 for gel. And while some salons don't charge extra for a French tip, others do. At PH7 in New York, a standard manicure costs $23, plus an additional $10 for French tips or $15 for gel French. Also, keep in mind that most salons charge a fee for nail polish removal, which can range from $10-$15 depending on the type of polish.

  • How do you do a French manicure with nail tape?

    If you don't have a steady hand and/or still need to brush up on your DIY manicure skills, nail tape ($9) can help. After applying the base coat, wait until dry and then align the nail strip so that the French tip is exposed. Press down firmly and apply the white polish to the tip. Let it dry before removing and proceeding with the manicure.

  • How can you make a French manicure last longer?

    As with any manicure, you'll get the most out of a French manicure if you use a strong base coat and a top coat, for starters. Also, avoid anything that may cause chipping (biting nails, hot water, chemicals, etc.) and don't forget to seal your manicure, or rather, paint around the nail tip to protect against damage.

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