How to Paint a French Manicure Without Guide Strips

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French manicures didn't originate in the fashionable streets of Paris, despite the name. Hollywood nail artist Jeff Pink came up with the idea in the 1970s to accommodate actresses' constant wardrobe changes. You'll recognize this classic, go-with-anything nail style because of its signature white tip and sheer, neutral nail color. Applying your own French manicure without a guide might be a little intimidating, but a bit of nail polish remover and patience will help get the job done.

Things You'll Need

  • Clear base coat
  • White nail polish
  • Nail polish remover
  • Small glass or bowl
  • Small makeup or art brush
  • Nude pink nail polish
  • Top coat

Step 1: Base Camp

For a smooth finish, start with nails free of old polish or lotion. Sweep a thin coat of clear base polish along the top third of your nail. This will act as the base for your tip, so don't worry about covering your whole nail at this point.


  • Apply some petroleum jelly on the skin around your nail so that any nail polish spillover can be removed easily.

Step 2: White Tip Magic

Apply opaque white polish to the top third of your nail. Keep the coat thin and even for smoother results. Sweep the white polish along the free, trimmed edge of your nail as well to make the color last longer. Allow the first coat to set for a couple of minutes and follow up with a second coat.


  • Swap out the classic French manicure with an edgy variation using the same tip-painting techniques. Shades of dark pink, sparkly gold or even black reinvent a basic manicure.

Step 3: Clean It Up

Pour a couple tablespoons of nail polish remover into a small glass or bowl. Dip a small, clean, stiff-bristled makeup or art brush into the nail polish. Sweep the brush along the bottom of the white strip you applied, using soft, smooth motions to create a tidy line. Dip the brush into the remover as needed, and keep removing the bottom edge of the white polish until you achieve the width of tip you desire. Allow the tip to set for about five minutes.

Step 4: Pretty in Pink

Apply a fresh coat of clear base polish over your entire nail, including the tip. Allow it to set for a few minutes. Follow up with a sheer, very light pink or nude shade. Sweep an even, thin layer of polish over the whole nail to achieve the French manicure. Apply a second coat and allow it to set for a few minutes.

Step 5: Final Coat

Finish the manicure with a final application of clear top coat to seal in the color and make the look last. Remember to sweep a little top coat along the top edge of each nail.


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