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The French Manicure

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Pale pink or beige, natural-looking and white-tipped1, the French manicure has been a classic nail design on offer at the most expensive salon, or sold on the shelves of your local pharmacist. But what is it and where did it come from?

A Short History

The origins of this particular design are hard to trace. Whereas the manicure for female fingernails has been around for a good 5,000 years, this design's origins are a little muddled. There are some who claim that an early French manicure was invented by Max Factor2 for the fashionistas of Paris in the 1930s, who desired a clean yet polished look for their over-moisturised hands. There are others who claim that the word 'French' when applied to anything can make that particular product sound chic and sophisticated. Certainly, the term 'Original French Manicure' was trademarked in 1978 by the cosmetics company Orly for the first home French manicure kit3.

At the time, Hollywood starlets were looking for a nail lacquer that would give their fans, the paparazzi and their ever-critical peers an effortlessly groomed look which would fit all wardrobe changes. The buff or pale translucent pink base and the whitened tip filled the market niche perfectly.

Fast forwarding to the present day, the 'frenchie' is still one of the most requested nail designs in nail bars across the world.

How to Paint a French manicure

Despite the 'effortless' tag, the actual manicure is not the easiest design to paint on your nails. The whitening of the tip requires a good eye and a steady hand - easier if you have a manicurist doing it for you, not so easy if you are painting the tips on with your offhand.

So here is the 'lazy' guide to performing your own manicure - this is but one variation on the classic.


  • Cotton wool pads
  • Cotton buds
  • Nail polish remover
  • Hand moisturiser
  • Lint-free towel
  • Hand-warm water
  • Cuticle pusher
  • Emery board
  • Nail buffer/ridge filler
  • Translucent beige/pink nail polish
  • Top coat
  • Bottom coat
  • White pencil crayon


If you have nail polish currently on your nails, remove all traces with nail polish remover. Then shape your nails with an emery board in a way that best pleases you. After that, run a nail buffer over the surface of the nail to remove the little ridges on the surface. If you have particularly thin nails, you may want to skip this step.

Next, soak your hands in warm water in the sink until your fingers start to prune. Dry your hands thoroughly with a lint-free towel4. Moisturise your hands5 and push the cuticles back with a cuticle pusher6 like so.

Wipe any excess moisturiser off the surface of the nail. Take your white crayon and whiten your tips by colouring them in on the back of the free edge of the nail.

Now you can begin applying the polish. If you have thin nails, you may want to use a ridge filler at this point. Apply this coat and wait until it is touch dry. Then paint a thin layer of base coat, and allow it to dry.

Now comes the difficult part - the application of the colour.

In painting your nails, less is more. For the most even look, three strokes are all that is needed - the first down the centre, the next two down the sides. It will look streaky at this moment, but resist trying to touch the nail up with further strokes. The polish will settle and you will find that the streaks which looked obvious before have evened themselves out.

Allow the colour to completely dry. If your get polish all over your fingers, you can remove it with some degree of precision by using a cotton bud dipped in nail polish remover. Finally, finish off with a top coat and do not attempt to do anything with your hands for the next hour - chances are you will smudge the finish if you do.

1An example of what one looks like can be seen here.2A rose pink lacquer was painted on the nail, with a chalky white powder intended for application to the underside of the free edge of the nail to whiten the tip. Though the rose pink colour was hardly unusual at that time, it was the development of the durable white powder and its combination with the aforementioned which was revolutionary.3This contained a bottle of a translucent pink shell colour, a clear bottle of all-in-one top/bottom coat, a bottle of nail tip whitener and paper guides to mask off the nail tips.4This will prevent little strands of cotton getting caught up in the polish, producing a smoother and more professional look.5You can give yourself a hand massage at this point, for extra pampering.6Your cuticles are the translucent fold of tissue at the very base of the nail called the eponychium.

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