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French vs. American Manicure

By on April 26, 2007
in Nail Art

A reader from South Africa emailed me recently about the difference between French and American manicures.

The French manicure is thought to have been invented by Max Factor in the 1930s for the fashionistas of Paris. A french manicure consists of a white tip with a flesh toned sheer over the rest of the nail. Orly trademarked the term “Original French Manicure” when they began selling their at home french manicure kits in 1978.
The origins of the American manicure are much harder to find. Basically, the major difference between the two styles is the color of the tip. American manicures are a softer version of the traditional French, using creamier colors as opposed to a stark white. Most people consider the American manicure a more natural nail look.
Here is an example of each:
French Manicure (Barielle French Tip White & Pinnacle Sorbet Cerise)

American Manicure (Orly Naked Ivory tip, OPI Bubble Bath)

Popular french manicure tip colors: OPI Alpine Snow and Orly White Tips

Popular American manicure tip colors: OPI Swedish Nude, Kyoto Pearl (shimmer) and Desire

In addition to the two most popular styles, alternatives to the french manicure are becoming very popular. Termed a “funky french” or “reverse french” these new versions are fresh and fun.

Sephora showed a reverse french, with black tips on their spring catalog cover.
Use a glittery, metallic or holographic polish on your tips for a blingtastic funky french. Tip color: OPI Paris Couture for Sure.

Finally, my lame attempt at a 4th of July funky french from last summer. Inspired by one of the MUA nail board gals, I decided to go for it with lots of color and glitter. I used China Glaze Hot Lava Love, OPI Paris Couture For Sure and China Glaze Dorothy Who?.

Helpful hints for “tipped” manicures:

Apply the base, nail bed, color first.

Hold the tip color brush steady and roll your fingertip underneath to get a smooth and even line.

Try using the Sally Hansen French Manicure Pen Kit if you can’t get your polish even.

photos: M_Grace on MUA, Sephora and All Lacquered Up

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There Are 17 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Jewel Box Dreamer says:

    I didn’t realize the American manicure had a name. Thanks for the info!

    I think your 4th of July nails are cute! I might try something similar this year. Usually I paint my nails red, white (or pearl) and blue, alternating fingers. But of course I have ten fingers, not nine, so it doesn’t quite work out evenly!

  2. Beauty Alchemist says:

    The 4th of July mani is so cute. I like the glitter one too, good job.
    I have worn yellow polish before, back in the 80s I had revlon yellow called flash and fantasy, I think. It was great. Enjoy your yellow, and yes Hooray for working w/ family.

  3. CincyFan says:

    JBD – I love to do themed manis for the holidays. I wear green ever St. Patty’s day, burnt oranges on turkey day, etc. I even do a brown and orange combo to show my support at Cleveland Browns games.

    BA – I can’t claim the glitter mani, that’s all M_Grace. She’s like the queen of french manis. Her technique is fantastic.

    There’s a yellow creme in the new Zoya Candy collection and I plan to try that one now that I’ve discovered this new love of yellow nails. Even my sig. other loves the look, after a few days of getting used to it.

  4. Kat says:

    I have some serious nail envy! M_Grace has the most fantastic nails! I would kill for nails like that. No matter what I do my nails are always in horrible shape. The flake off in layers if I grow them long like that. Seriously I am so jealous!! Do you think that M_Grace would share her tips or is she just blessed with manicure talant and the best nails EVER?!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Would you have any other suggestion for an OPI nail polish that is close to the Swedish Nude color? I’ve seen that the color has been discotinued/retired.

  6. heykarinakarina says:

    I actually prefer American Manicure, the company, for the tips. They have the very best “sheer” white… and even an ivory tip. I do my nails the same as you for an AM, I use a sheer light pink to hide those white spots under the nail rather than a tinted clear.

    Love the photos.

  7. Anonymous says:

    American Manicures are icky…rip off French Manicures with discoloured tips. Horrible.

  8. Polly Palmer Pratt says:

    I am a liscened Nail Tech in Hampton Va for thirty years now.I have grown with the industry. When the french manicure hit my area,my clients did not like it.That was early 80′s. They were all about color. Once they saw me wearing the french manicue,they slowly started to convert.Now here we are 2010,and they still are wearing it.As a nail tech,I am very glad “American Manicure” has given us some variety of that classic,natural look. My clients are asking for American Manicure by name.We will be offering these products on our retail shelves in our beautiful waterfront salon. Van Gar,the salon at 757-728-2753.I reccomend these product to the professional techs to use at their table. It will give great professional results and is a great retail item.
    Always Keeping It Real,
    Polly Palmer Pratt
    Master Technician

  9. I really didn’t know there was an American manicure, I love the look of French manicure, it looks so groomed and polished. Viva la difference!

  10. kissy says:

    I love the American manicure…it looks so natural…not like you’re trying so hard…I also did it once with a shimmery white pearly color for the tips and it came out nice!!! the 4th of July ones were cute!!!

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  12. I really like a french manicure! Especially a funky one, but anything really. Yes, it looks unnatural, but then again so does blue nails. It may have started as an idea to mimic a perfect nail, but I think it has been removed quite far from that.
    It looks fresh and tidy, and I love them!

    Don’t get me started on the french pedis though. Gross gross gross. Why would you EVER want your toenails look like they need cutting THAT bad?

  13. Karen says:

    Awesome! Thanks for sharing this! I’m new to nail art and I’m always looking for new simple designs.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Did you just copy this article?

    It looks pretty much exactly the same as yours…

  15. French Manicure Videos says:

    This is news to me. I always believed the main difference was the color of the base coat. I thought a French manicure had a beige/pink base while an American manicure had a pink base. Hmm, I wonder if that is also part of the trend. I love the classic look with pearly white tips. Not so keen on the reverse French manicure. From a distance it looks like dirty nails!