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 French manicure at home? We spoke to experts Darlene Sritapan and Natalia Bychkova to get their top tips for bringing the look to life.
Meet the Expert
So what kind of tools do you need to create French tips at home?
- Cuticle sticks and cotton balls, or cotton swabs will help keep your nails clean (a French mani is really all about the nail), while a nail file and a buff will help maintain the shape you want.
- Cuticle oil will help hydrate the nail bed and cuticle so the manicure itself stays healthy.
- A base coat will ensure you have even coverage and help the remaining products stick.
- Nail tape or a silicone nail stamper will help you achieve the coveted curved line that marks a French mani. Just add white (or your French mani color of choice) polish.
- A neutral color of choice.
- Lastly, you'll want a top coat so everything stays in place.
Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how to DIY French tips.
Clean and Shape 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 orange wood stick with the end covered in cotton and dipped in nail polish remover for the edges.
Although French manicures can be suitable for every type of nail plate and shape/length, Bychkova suggests that the mid-length almond and short square shapes look 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.
Buff the Nail Plate and Hydrate Your Hands and Cuticles
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 Edge White 240 Grit File ($2) 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.
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.
Apply the Base
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.
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 your base coat is fully dry, press the tape firmly to where you want your tip to end. 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.
Paint the Tip of the Nail
Paint the exposed tip of the nail with your choice of solid white nail polish. To get a nice line with just one layer, opt for a polar white color like OPI Alpine Snow ($11) or Akzent Luxio Polar ($17).
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.
Round Out the Line
If you're going for the crescent shape instead of a straight line, use a cotton swab or fine nail art brush to add touches of white nail polish to the corners of the nail.
Top Your Manicure Off With a Sheer Neutral Shade
This is the manicurist-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.
Finish With a Thin Layer of Top Coat
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 top coat. "My favorite top coat is Akzentz Luxio Shine On ($20) because it's not sticky and keeps your nails for so long," says Bychkova.
And voilà, you've created a French manicure. As with any manicure, be sure to play it carefully before putting your hands to work: Depending on the formula of your polish and your top coat, it can take several hours for your nails to completely dry.
How much does a French manicure cost?
It will depend on which nail salon you go to, but in New York City a standard manicure typically ranges from $20-$25 for regular polish and $45-$50 for gel. And while some salons don't charge extra for a French tip, others do. 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 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.
What are some variations on the traditional French manicure?
If you're looking for a variation on the classic French mani, try V French tips or reverse French tips. The easiest way to create a V French tip is to hold the nail perpendicular to you, then paint on long white lines in a "V" shape, with the bottom of the V hitting at the tip of the nail. For a reverse French tip, use a dark color over the entire base of the nail, and add a small line in a lighter shade at the nail bed (instead of on fingernail tip, as in a classic French manicure).