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French Manicure Techniques

Base Coats

Most manicures start with a clear base coat. A French manicure is no different. Stroke on your favorite colorless polish and let it dry. Follow this with your base color, covering the whole nail. For a traditional French manicure, use a pink or beige base color. But the sky is the limit, so experiment with other combinations you love.

The Smile Line

Nail professionals call the edge where the white tip of your nails meets the pink bed the “smile line.” The trickiest part of a French manicure is getting a neat smile line. Make a stroke of color at the smile line from one side of your nail to the middle. Do the same on the other side, then fill in color on the rest of the tip. Don’t worry if you don’t paint a perfect smile the first time. The technique is simple, but it takes practice to be able to do it right. Until then, use a cuticle stick dipped in polish remover to correct any mistakes.

Top Coats

A clear top coat makes your nail lacquer shine and protects it from chipping. Sometimes you’ll want to use a coat of top color first, though. If you’re doing a classic pink- or beige-and-white French manicure, sweeping on a top color makes the contrast between tip and bed colors more subtle. Use the same-color polish you used for the bottom color and stroke it over the entire nail, tip included. Be sure the tip color is dry before putting on the top color so you don’t smudge your neat smile line. When dry, seal with your clear topcoat.

Tips and Tricks

If your own nails aren’t long enough to show off a French manicure, or if you don’t think you’ll ever get the smile line quite right, don’t worry. Help is as close as your nearest beauty supply store. Buy a French manicure kit that contains polish and guides. The guides stick on to help you paint a perfect smile line and then peel off when done. Or avoid painting the smile line and add length at the same time with acrylic nails. Acrylic nail kits typically result in a classic pink-and-white French manicure that makes polishing your nails optional.

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