You've Heard of French Manicures, but Have You Heard of an American One?

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Whether it's been exacerbated by social media or everyone has all of a sudden gotten really into nails, it feels like there are countless new manicure trends to try every week. If you're anything like us, the onslaught can feel slightly overwhelming, and like clockwork, analysis paralysis kicks in when we go to get our nails done.

For us, that often means we end up sticking to those understated manicures — like "lip gloss" nails, "digital lavender" shades, or the classic french manicure — that we know look good. Still, if you're looking to try something new without going too out of the box, allow us to expand your list of simple, timeless nail ideas by one. Say hello to the american manicure.

Experts Featured in This Article

Rita Remark is a manicurist and Essie's global lead educator.

Julie Kandalec is a celebrity manicurist based in NYC.


What Are American Manicures?

"Imagine a classic white and pink french manicure, now soften the contrast," Essie's global lead educator Rita Remark, tells PS. "It's a softer, more sheer pink, paired with a cloudy off-white tip." This technique is what makes for a more natural and better-than-real french-tip look, affectionately referred to as the "american french" manicure.

This look has been around for decades (with some pinpointing it to the 1930s), but it is being hailed as the perfect cross between the vanilla and classic french styles.

The Difference Between American vs. Vanilla French Manicures

You may see american and vanilla french manicures and presume that they're the same thing. The difference is minute, but there definitely is one. "It's in the tones used for each manicure," manicurist Julie Kandalec previously said. In addition to the gradient in the american version, the colors used for the tips are what truly sets them apart. "The tip of an american manicure is closer to a true white shade," Kanalec says. "For the vanilla, it's more of a yellow."

Still confused? Think about it like this: you're in a room with white walls and have the option to diffuse the light or make it warmer in tone. Before anything happens, the walls would be a normal stark white — the color used in a french manicure. If you choose to diffuse, the walls would look like more of a cloudy white, i.e. the shade seen in american nails. Should you make the light a bit warmer, the walls would get an almost eggshell-yellow appearance; this is your vanilla french tip color.

How to Create an American Manicure at Home

To get your own american manicure, the technique you use is as important as your lacquer choices. First, start by polishing the nail with one or two coats of a sheer pink color like Essie's Mademoiselle ($10) or Skinny Dip ($8). Then, paint the tip with a softer white shade. "You can diffuse the line of the tip by polishing the sheer base color overtop of the white for a super-natural look," Remark says. If you prefer to go to a salon, your best bet is to bring a picture of the look so that your manicurist has an easy reference.

Though Remark loves the look of this manicure sans nail art, there are a few ways to jazz it up. "It'd look great beneath a glitter or chrome effect," Remark says. Alternatively, you can add simple nail decals like hearts, stars, or a single crystal, to each finger to achieve a simple yet eye-catching design.


Ariel Baker is the associate editor for PS Beauty. Her areas of expertise include celebrity news, beauty trends, and product reviews. She has additional bylines with Essence and Forbes Vetted.