Nails » What’s an American Manicure? Everything You Need to Know 

What’s an American Manicure? Everything You Need to Know 

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The American manicure is having its resurgence, and we couldn’t be more excited. This subtle, nude style comes from the same family as the French manicure but with a low-key vibe. 

Many of our favorite “It” girls, like Margot Robbie, Kylie Jenner, and Selena Gomez, have all been spotted with an American manicure gracing their nails. Thanks to its natural, flattering colors, this style fits perfectly with today’s understated, clean girl aesthetic. It’s just as fitting for the red carpet as it is for a day at the office. 

If you’ve ever looked at a French manicure, with stark white tips contrasting against pink polish, and thought to yourself, “That’s way too much…” then the American manicure might be for you. Read on to learn everything you need to know about this cool, modern style! 

What is an American manicure?

An American manicure is a nail polish application technique that enhances the tips of the nails with colors that mimic a healthy, natural nail. It’s the “no makeup makeup” approach applied to nail polish. Anna Parvatova, nail technician and creative director of SNS Nails, considers it a variation of the French manicure. 

While it’s not clear who invented the American manicure or when it started, Parvatova explained its recent popularity is largely due to who has been wearing it: “It has really grown in popularity over the past few years because celebrities and, most notably, Victoria’s Secret models started prominently sporting it.” 

To achieve this style, manicurists use off-white or ivory nail polish for the free edge of the nail and peachy or nude nail polish for the base. The polishes selected for the job are usually sheer, which allows some natural nail texture to come through. 

After painting the tips, the nude base shade will usually go on all over the nail, including over the tips, which helps blend the colors together to create a gradual transition. 

The soft colors should be close to the wearer’s natural coloring. The best American manicure nail polish shades for a person with a deeper skin tone may not suit someone with a lighter skin tone, and vice versa. 

As with most nail styles, there is plenty of room for variation in other aspects of your manicure. You can get a traditional American manicure with regular nail polish or combine it with UV-cured gel polish, dip powder, acrylics, and more. You can even combine it with a Russian manicure, which, despite the similarity in the name, actually refers to the nail-prepping technique. 

How do you get an American manicure?

Want to give the American manicure a try? Here’s how you can recreate it at home, or how your manicurist might make it happen at the salon. 

Choose your colors

Before you can start creating your manicure, it’s important to have the right nail polishes on hand. If you have fair skin, a peachy pink base will work best, while someone with a deeper skin tone will achieve the same effect with a pinkish taupe. 

Some great polishes for the American manicure include Essie in Limo-Scene, Deborah Lippmann in Naked, and Sally Hansen Insta-Dri in Instant Coffee for the base. For the tips, we recommend China Glaze in Coffee First, People Later. 

Soak the cuticles

The first step in every manicure is prep. To truly pamper yourself, soak your nails in a bath of warm water. This will also help soften your nails and cuticles, making shaping easier. After a few minutes, pull your hands out of the water. Using a cuticle remover cream or orange stick, carefully remove or push back your cuticles. 

Shaping and base coat

If needed, you can trim your nails, but otherwise, use a nail file to carefully shape them. “In keeping with its subtle appearance, American manicure nails should be shorter and with less pointed tips,” Parvatova recommended. 

Ovals are the classic choice for an American manicure, but you can also try an almond or squared-off shape to create a contrast. Parvatova highlighted the importance of considering your own finger shape when deciding. 

Once you’re done shaping, use a dry cloth to remove any nail dust and to dry off your nails. 

Apply the tips

Apply a thin layer of base coat, and once it dries, apply your beige or white to the tips of the nails. If you’re confident in your nail polish application skills, you can paint your tips free-hand by simply swiping the white over your natural tips. Make sure to wrap the color around the edge of the nail to prevent chipping and to help your manicure last longer. 

If you’re still starting out, you can apply a piece of tape to cover the nail bed, leaving only the free edge visible. This will act as a guide, allowing you to paint the tips more evenly with a cleaner line of demarcation.  


Once the shade for the tips has dried, you can now apply your base nail polish. Make sure the brush isn’t too saturated with polish, and then carefully begin applying from as close to the cuticle as you can, pulling upwards in one stroke all the way to the tips. If needed, follow this up with a second stroke to make sure your entire nail is covered. That said, one coat of polish is usually enough, even if using a very sheer shade. 

Top coat

Finally, once your nail polish has dried, apply a thin layer of top coat to seal the look, add a flattering sheen, and help your polish last even longer. Once the top coat dries, a generous application of hand cream or cuticle oil will help nourish the skin around your nails and provide your manicure with more flexibility.  

What is the difference between an American manicure and a French manicure?

French vs. American Manicure: Differences

The French manicure is the original classic, a stark style that exaggerates the color of natural nails. Compared to the American manicure, it’s a lot more noticeable. To keep going with our makeup analogy, a French manicure is like a soft glam look, compared to the true nude look of the American manicure. 

While the difference is mostly from the colors used, there can also be a slight variation in the application technique. “Well-executed American manicures even feature a subtle blending between the tip and the rest of the nail as opposed to the sharp division between the two that characterizes French manicure,” Parvatova explained. 

Over the years, the French manicure’s popularity has had its ups and downs. Today, it’s polarizing — some consider it a timeless, flattering, and glamorous style. For others, it’s dated, over the top, and tacky. 

The American manicure is less talked about, perhaps because it’s newer or because it flies under the radar. If you choose to get an American manicure, others might assume your nails look that way naturally or that you’re only wearing a thin layer of clear polish. 

What is the difference between an American manicure and a Russian manicure?

While they may sound like they could be similar or even related, the terms American manicure and Russian manicure refer to two totally different things. 

An American manicure is all about the nail polish color choices and application style. The Russian manicure is purely a question of how the nails are prepped. Closely related to the “dry manicure,” the differentiating factor in a Russian manicure is that the nails are prepped without any soaking. 

Using an electric nail file, the manicurist exfoliates away the cuticle and reshapes the nails. Then, the polish is applied not just near the cuticle but below the eponychium, which is the thick layer of skin at the base of the nail. 

Manicurists who champion this technique believe that soaking weakens the nails and that the dry prep is healthier. Opponents of the technique, however, believe that it’s too aggressive, potentially injuring the eponychium and leading to infections.  

If you’d like to participate in international diplomacy, you can try a Russian-American manicure that’s created with both techniques. However, it’s important to choose a manicurist who’s very well-trained in Russian manicures, is diligent about hygiene and sanitation, and knows how to remove the cuticle without damaging the eponychium. 


What is the healthiest manicure to get?

A traditional manicure with regular nail polish is likely the healthiest option since it’s easy to remove without damage. To ensure your manicure is even better for your nails, choose nail polishes with nail-strengthening formulas and nourishing ingredients. 

What color should I use for an American manicure?

For the base color, choose a nail polish shade that’s just a hint more pink than your skin tone. This means you can choose a darker shade if your skin is deeper or a lighter shade if your skin is more fair. For the tips, a beige or off-white is best, but even a white shade will work since you paint the base color over the tips. 

How much should I tip for a professional manicure?

Just like at a restaurant, you should tip between 15% and 20% for a job well done. Consider tipping even more if your manicurist goes above and beyond!