French Manicure -- How to Do It Yourself at Home

French manicure
French manicure. Daniel Sheehan Photographers / Getty Images

The French manicure is an elegant look that remains popular today. You can do your own nails yourself at home using this how-to below.

See photos of French manicures.

Remove the Old Polish

First, wash hands and remove old nail polish with an acetone-free polish remover if you have a light shade or an acetone remover for darker shades (acetones can be drying to the nails). We like Cutex Nail Polish Remover Regular, which has acetone.

We also recommend Zoya's acetone-free nail polish remover

Use an orangewood stick with the end covered in cotton and dipped in nail polish remover for the edges if need be. If nails are stained from the previous nail color, you can fix that using one of these methods in How to Get Rid of Nail Stains.

Clip Your Nails

The trendy nail shape of the moment is a "squoval" meaning not square nor oval. Long, squared nails that look fake can be tacky and super square nails can look dated. 

To get the perfect squoval, clip your nails straight across. Grab a file and file in one direction so the corners are slightly rounded. 

Prep Your Nails

If you get your nails professionally done, you'll notice how much prep work goes in before the paint goes on. You don't want to skip these important steps when going the DIY route. 

  • Apply cuticle remover to cuticles (if you have it). See this list of the best cuticle creams.
  • Prepare a nail soak by placing a few drops of jojoba or almond oil (in a pinch, any oils will do) in a bowl of warm water. Soak your hands for a couple minutes in the bowl of warm water. Pat hands dry.
  • Twist a piece of water-moistened cotton onto the end of an orangewood stick. Use it to gently push back your cuticles. Don't cut the cuticles, you can risk nicking the skin (this has happened to me and it is incredibly painful).
  • Exfoliate your hands with a body scrub, rinse and apply hand cream.
  • Before polishing clean nails, soak a cotton ball in nail polish remover and swipe across nails. This will remove the hand cream and any excess oils or soap than can cause peeling once the polish is applied.

Paint Your Nails

Now onto the fun part: painting your nails. For a French manicure, you'll need 2 shades of color: one for the nail and one for the tip. You can have all sorts of fun with French manicures. You can choose neutral shades which is a more classic approach or you can choose bright colors. But do skip the super white tips, which are dated and tacky. 

Keep 3 things in mind when painting nails: thin layers are best and don't shake the nail polish bottle, instead roll it between your palms. This mixes the polish without causing air bubbles. And finally, you'll 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.

Here are my step-by-step instructions:

  1. Start with a thin layer of basecoat like  China Glaze's.
  2. Start with the pinky finger and apply a thin base coat to all 10 fingers.
  3. Apply a thin layer of your main polish down the middle then one on the left and one on the right. After the first coat dries for a couple minutes, repeat.
  1. Now paint the tip of the nail. In traditional French manicures, this white strip is straight across the nail, however, if you let the polish curve with your natural nail, your nails will appear longer. Prevent chips by brushing the polish over the edge and wrapping the polish under the nail.
  2. Clean up any errant polish with an orange stick wrapped in cotton and moistened with polish remover.
  3. Finish with a thin layer of topcoat. The most popular top coat, hands down, is ​Seche Vite Dry Fast Top Nail Coat.

For more on manis and pedis, check out:

How to Save on Your Nails
My 30 Best Manicure Tips