For all of us who learned our best nail painting tips way back in the grade school slumber party days, this is a tutorial worth reading. While there's definitely a time and a place to treat yo' self at the salon, paying for a professional French manicure month after month can get pretty pricey.
If you need nice nails and still need to keep your cash, we're here to help you out of that rock and a hard place. With a little practice, you'll be doing this eight-step at-home French mani in your sleep:
The perfect French manicure
A pale pink base and bright white tips have come to characterize the ever-so-popular French manicure, which, believe it or not, is a common request at nail salons everywhere. Even in France, where it's considered an American invention, this kind of mani is called "la French." Too funny, huh?
Now (luckily) with all the new nail advances, it's easy to score a salon-worthy mani right in the comfort of your own home. Pick up a French manicure kit at your local beauty supply store (for longer lasting color, try a gel nail one), or invest in some sheer pink and white polish to easily do it yourself. We've provided simple steps for everyone to follow.
Step 1: Trim your nails
Start by trimming your nails to the desired length. Make sure all of them are even. And remember: When it comes to the French manicure, the longer they are, the better.
More: How to Get So Cal Nails
Step 2: Shape your nails
Figure out the type of shape you’d like (either rounded or square). Then grab a nail file and get to work.
Step 3: Soak your cuticles
If you really want to recreate the spa experience at home, dip your hands in a bowl of warm water and let them soak for a minute or two. Then take a cuticle pusher (or orangewood stick) and gently push your cuticles back. Use the opposite end of the cuticle pusher to remove any dirt and grime from underneath your nails.
Step 4: Buff and prep for polish
Now, before you apply your first coat of polish, buff the top of your nails to prepare them for your nail polish. Then, simply massage cuticle oil onto your nails at this time.
Next Up: Paint on your base coat
Step 5: Paint on your base coat
You’re all ready for your base coat now. Paint on a thin layer of sheer pink polish, and let your nails dry for a couple of minutes. For gels nails, cure them under the LED light for 45 seconds only, no longer. Repeat this step again with a second coat of polish, and allow your nails to dry (or cure) before moving on.
Step 6: Apply nail guides
Once your mani's base coat is all dry, place the nail guides on them to snag the perfect white tip pain-free. Don’t have any? That’s alright. The next step will just require some concentration on your part. Or, use those office supply doilies to perfect your French tip.
Step 7: Paint on your white French tips
With your white polish, lightly brush color onto the tip of your nails (as if you were creating an upside down smiley or a sad face). Let the polish dry for a few minutes. For gel nails, let it cure for 45 seconds. Repeat this step with a second coat, and wait for it to dry or cure.
Step 8: Remove your nail guides and seal in your manicure
Remove your nail guide, and apply a top coat of polish. Allow this coat to dry for several minutes (or cure it under the light for 45 seconds). Voila, you’ve just completed your very own French mani!
This procedure is best performed on a lazy morning or evening when no other pressing errands or tasks will get in the way. After painting your nails, avoid doing things with your hands while they dry.
Manicure kits that make it even easier
If you are feeling especially creative and ambitious, kick off your shoes and make your tootsie tips match your fingertips.
For an easier painting technique, check the beauty section of a drug store or superstore for a French manicure kit. The set should contain, at the very least, nail polish in white and pink or beige and a clear topcoat. Some manicure sets — like the Sally Hansen French Manicure Kit and the Orly French Manicure Kit — contain tiny, sticky nail guides. These make the manicure process 10 times easier by allowing you to place the guides on each nail individually (like we did!), only leaving a small margin where the polish can spill outside the tip without tainting the rest of your nail. Trust us, it's worth the small price to buy.
Try out colors
Let your crazy side shine through by concocting a wildly modified French manicure — red and white for Valentine's Day, pastel shades for Easter or neon bright tips for summer. You can always add glitter for super sparkle anytime! If you feel really ambitious, try this fish tail french manicure tutorial.
Have fun and remember, even if you do find the do-it-yourself French manicure difficult at first, practice makes perfect, and pretty soon you'll be well on your way to creating beautiful and perfect manicures all the time. We promise, it does get easier.
Originally published April 2008. Updated Sept. 2016.