The secret to a perfect French manicure, however you apply it, is matching the client’s skin tone, not her wardrobe.
Long know as a summer favorite, the French manicure is gaining popularity year-round for its versatility and fresh, clean look. While the traditional pink and white look is a perennial favorite, technicians have customized this application with peach- and beige-tinted polishes and even a touch of nail art. Forget matching clients’ wardrobes; the key is matching skin tone and personality.
The French manicure is known for its universal appeal – technicians say 35% to 70% of their clients sport the French manicure year-round. “The French manicure goes with everything you wear – whether it’s business or casual, dressy or funky – it fits the purpose,” says Linda DeFalco of The Nail Loft in Coventry, R.I
A French manicure makes the nail look natural, while disguising discoloration and ridges. In its first incarnation, the French manicure was done by painting the underside of the nail with white paint to make the nail look clean and healthy. Soon, nail polish manufacturers picked up on the trend and began marketing white and sheer pink polishes.
As acrylic nails became more popular and clients began demanding thinner and more natural-looking extensions, pink acrylic powder for the nail bed was the response from manufacturers. About two years ago, nail wrap manufacturers introduced sheer pink fabrics to create the same look. Pink and white gels are also now available, making the look of a French manicure available for any application. Airbrushed French manicures were quickly added to the nail artists’ repertoire once air-brushing swept the country.
You’ll discover which look you and your clients like best by experimenting with different techniques. As with most other nail services, you’ll probably do more than one French manicure technique to satisfy all your clients.
Polishing Up on Your French
A polished French manicure is a favorite with technicians because its quick, easy, and appropriate for any client, no matter what application she’s wearing – or if she’s not wearing anything at all.
Technicians charge clients $2.50 to $5 more than the basic service for a French manicure. Your price depends on how high your basic service prices are and your speed. If you charge $8 for a natural manicure, for example, clients may be more willing to pay extra for the French look. Other technicians say they don’t charge more for the extra service because their service prices are higher to begin with. They also say that a French manicure takes no longer once you perfect the technique.
Manufacturers offer several shades of white and sheer polishes to create a finished look to suit any client. Sheer pink is the traditional favorite, followed by beige and peach. Translucent and opalescent polishes tint the nail bed and display more of the natural nail. Show your clients a selection of sheer colors painted on nail tips so they can hold the tips over their nails and judge how the color will look.
Clients with dark or yellow skin tones may prefer beige or peach tones. Sue Smith Irwin, owner of Dallas Nail Works in Dallas, advises technicians, “Experiment with different shades and different hues, because the look varies with different skin tones and nail beds. We use at least 10 different variations.”
French manicures should make nails look clean and healthy. The most frequently used whites are stark white, which is chalky and opaque, and a creamier soft white. Clients with darker skin tones may find stark white makes their nails look fake.
To do a French manicure with polish, follow these steps:
- Apply a base coat as usual. Some technicians also recommend a ridge filler on natural nails.
- Paint the free edge with white polish. Most technicians freehand the smile line by following the nail’s natural curve. Paint across the nail from one edge to the middle, and then repeat from the other direction. Correct any mistakes with an orangewood stick dipped in acetone. Once the line is perfect, stroke vertically from the smile line to the free edge.
Lorion Brewer of Nails by Lorion in Torrance, Calif., says she cheated a little to get a perfectly polished smile line. “I paint the nail tip white, straight across,” says Brewer, “then I dip my polish corrector pen in acetone and remove polish where the free edge begins, swiping the pen around in a half circle following the smile line. I keep correcting with the pen until the smile line is where I want it to be.”
Kelly young of Kiki’s Nail Salon in Toledo, Ohio, makes short nails look longer by painting the smile line below the free edge.
- Let the white polish set for a few minutes, then paint the entire nail with a sheer or opalescent polish. This enhances the nail bed’s color, softens the starkness of the white demarcation line.
- Seal the nail with a top coat that contains a sunscreen. There are variations on the traditional French manicure that dress it up for special occasions (see “Americanizing the French Manicure”). Use your imagination to personalize your clients’ polish French Manicures.
How many times has a client complained to you that acrylic nails look fake? With the introduction of tinted acrylic powders, you can create a French manicure without using polish.
Doing a French manicure with acrylics is similar to doing a regular full set. Many technicians do a French manicure when applying a full set even if a client plans to wear polish. One such technician is Tom Holcomb of Curl Up & Dye in Riverside, Calif. He says that 90% of his referrals come from customers whose nails look natural. With some practice, he assures, a French manicured full set or fill takes no longer than plain acrylics. Try these tips for a successful acrylic French manicure.
- Form a small ball of white acrylic over the lunula, after cleansing and priming to create a natural-looking moon.
- Put your second ball of white acrylic in the center of the free edge, patting it to form your smile line. If you skip the lunula, this will be your first step.
Corie Lefkowitz of Mark Frank Hair Salon in Beachwood, Ohio, recommends working with a very dry ball on the free edge for added control. Work the ball to one side, then the other. Push your brush against the acrylic at the smile line, toward the free edge, for a well-defined line.
- Sculpt the nail bed normally, using pink powder. If you sculpt the moons, pat your first pink ball over the moon and spread it around the cuticle area. Then drive it toward the tip. Put your next ball in the center of the nail to build the arch and main portion of the nail. Lightly stroke the entire nail surface with your brush. File and buff as normal.
Every four to six weeks, you’ll need to do a back fill in addition to the normal fill. A black fill can add 10 to 15 minutes to the service until you gain experience.
To do a back fill, file or buff a small depression on top of a small depression on top of the nail at the smile line. If you’re using a drill, be very careful not to drill down to the natural nail or you could permanently damage the nail plate. Don’t chip back the acrylic or a fill will show.
Fill the depression with white acrylic and continue with the rest of the service. Use a top coat with UV inhibitors to prevent yellowing. Advise clients to apply a fresh coat at home every day or two.
Just as for the polish French manicure, technicians who charge at the high end of the scale usually don’t charge more for the back fill, but some high-end salons charge as much as $10 extra. Alert clients beforehand to any maintenance charges for the acrylic French manicure.
A Softener, Gentler Airbrush
If you associate airbrushing with multicolored designs, look again. An airbrushed French manicure looks very natural, says Joanne Orlando of Merle Norman in Massapequa, N.Y. The look differs from a polish French manicure because the acrylic paints used in airbrushes are opaque. Orlando says clients like the look because ridges and yellowing are concealed.
There are several ways to do a French manicure with an airbrush, and each looks a little different. Try these techniques and see what happens.
- Apply base coat or ridge filler. Spray the entire nail with light beige or pink paint. You can shade the nail – making it darker toward the cuticle and lighter toward the top – by varying the spray. Mask the nail bed, and airbrush the tip with white paint. Seal with top coat containing UV inhibitors.
- Reverse the above technique. Base coat the nail first, then spray the entire nail white. Mask the free edge and spray the nail bed with light beige or pink. Seal with top coat containing UV inhibitor.
- If client want translucent color on the nail bed, Barry Katz of Spectra Nail Salon in Las Vegas, Nev., recommends airbrushing the tip white and polishing the entire nail with a tinted top coat. Katz masks the nail bed with a small nail form, placing the top curved edge at the smile line. This look gives you a uniform nail tip, says Katz, while emphasizing the natural nail bed.
Like polish French manicures airbrushing allows creativity and individuality. (See sidebar for more variations on the airbrushed French Manicure.)
Wrapping Up the French
Wrap French manicures are fairly new, but the look is very natural, says Lefkowitz.
- After nail preparation, put on strip of pink fabric over the entire nail and cover it with wrap coating.
- Cut a piece of white fabric to fit the tip, trimming the bottom to follow the smile line. Apply another layer of wrap coating and process as normal.
Pink wrap fabric gives the nail bed a healthy look, but they don’t add much color, says Lefkowitz. Without using tips, she says, the white fabric doesn’t acid enough contrast, and you will not get a well-defined French manicure look.
A French manicure wrap fill is much like an acrylic fill: Buff a depression at the smile line, being careful not to go down to the last layer of fabric. Then apply a thin strip of white fabric, coat with white coating, and cure. Finish your fill and buff the entire nail surface to high gloss.
Like the other techniques, some technicians charge extra for a wrap French manicure and others don’t, depending on the salon’s price structure and how much additional time is spent doing back fills. Like your traditional services, price your wrap French manicures the same as your acrylic French manicures.
Gel a la Francaise
Gel nails are noted for their thin natural look. A gel French manicure takes no longer to do than a regular full set, says Lisa Postma of Hair Conspiracy in Torrance, Calif. For greatest ease, follow these steps.
- Prepare the nails ad normal and apply tips. Shape the tips and cleanse the nails, then apply a thin coat gel over the entire nails and cure under the UV light. Repeat this step for added strength, if desired.
- Apply white gel to the nail tip, following the natural smile line. Paint gel on the nail like polish instead of sculpting like acrylic. Touch up the smile line with your brush. Cure the nails under the UV light.
- Apply pink gel over the nail bed and cure.
- Coat the entire nail with a coat of thin clear gel and cure. Finish the nails as normal.
Doing a gel back fill is just like doing an acrylic back fill: Buff a depression at the smile line, being careful not to buff down to the natural nail., fill with white gel, and cure. Fill the cuticle area with pink gel and coat the entire nail with another coat of thin clear gel.
Price your gel French manicures the same as your other artificial French manicure services.
Viva la France
Each French manicure technique offers you a look that’s slightly different from the others. Your choice depends on your clients’ wishes as well as what you most enjoy doing. Technicians advise that you consider your time when setting the price, but don’t price yourself out of the service it doesn’t take longer to do a stylish French manicure, you can justify charging an extra $5. It doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t charge $2 for the “extra” service. As always, know what your market will bear.
Technicians say the French manicure look promotes itself. Encourage clients to try the French especially if they mention they want to match their wardrobe to their nails, or just seem discontented with their nails at all, a polished look doesn’t necessarily require colored polish.
Americanizing the French Manicure
Technicians have added new colors and touches of nail art to dress up the traditional French manicure. While some people may think of the French manicure as being limited to the same old pink nail bed and white tip, creative technicians use their imaginations to add American pizzazz to this French classic. Try some of these technicians’ touches or add a few of your own ideas for a customized French manicure look.
Debbie Mack, educator for Pivot Point International, Chicago: “I like to airbrush gold on the tip on a chevron shape with red on the nail plate, which makes it dressy for special occasions. I have also done a reverse French with white on the nail plate and a black chevron tip.”
Elizabeth Anthony, Progressive Nail Concepts, Palatine, Ill.: “You can do a chevron airbrush designs and then outline the edge with foils. With this design I might also do French pink on the nail bed. Then I mask the nail tip and spray iridescent gold or silver on just the nail bed. Then I move my mask down and spray the tip white. I apply a gold or silver foil stripe on the V.”
Madonna Thompson, Nails by Madonna, Greenwood, Tenn.: “I like the American manicure look because it is very natural. American manicures use a soft white polish and a peach or pink tinted polish. It is great for someone who wants it to look like she’s just wearing clear polish.”
Corie Lefkowitz, Mark Frank Hair Salon, Beachwood, Ohio: “A big trend last year was to use platinum or gold polish instead of pink-beige. You can also use studs, rhinestones, or pearls around the smile line.”
Joanne Orlando, Marie Norman, Massapequa, N.Y.: “I like to reverse the airbrushed manicure by first shading the nail with pink or beige paint. Then I spray the tip white. Next, I stencil small details like white hearts around the edges. You can airbrush any small details with stencils.”
Barry Katz, Spectra Nail Salon, Las Vegas, Nev.: You can graduate colors on the nail bed to make a unique French manicures toward the cuticle, masking off each new color as you add more. Keep working up the nail like this. During the war I did gold, blue, red, and then white on the tip. You can use any colors you want.”
Chris Young, Hey Jude’s Nails Salon, Baltimore: “Clients are always asking for variations. You can do French manicures with peach, pink, lilac polishes – or whatever you want. Victorian French manicures, also called chevron tips, are really coming back. Instead of following the smile line in white, use a straight edge to make two diagonal lines that V at the free edge.
“On one set of nails I took a fine striping brush dipped in a gold paint and outlines the V then put a gold stud right at the V’s point.
“Another time I did a Victorian manicure and went over it with blush polish with gold fleck in and applied mother-of-pearl translucent foil at the V’s edge and apply striped pink paint beside it. I finished with a clear top coat.”