There is perhaps no nail aesthetic more iconic than the white-tipped French manicure. Neutral and understated, yet meticulously preened, classic French nails have been a beauty staple for ladies everywhere since the style first emerged in the 1930s.

The terms ‘French manicure’ and ‘French polish’ are sometimes used interchangeably, despite the fact they are different treatments.

This can be confusing, so we have created this guide in order for you to make an informed decision about which treatment is most suitable during your next spa visit.

What is a French manicure?

A French manicure isn’t actually all that different to any other spa manicure. The massage and nail care techniques are identical, or at least very similar (some variation is, of course, to be expected between different therapists and spas).

It is the painting - or the French polish - stage of French manicures which makes them unique. While most traditional manicures see each nail polished (varnished) a single colour, with a French manicure, the tip of each nail is neatly painted pure white.

What is a French polish?

After a base coat has been applied by the therapist/nail technician, a natural pink, beige or nude polish is applied to each nail. Once dry, a neat white tip will be created on each (where each nail separates from the nailbed) using an opaque white varnish or, less commonly, a nail crayon.

Sometimes this process is reversed, with the white tip created before the coloured varnish is applied on top, to create a more understated look. Once the varnish and tips are dry, a further top coat will be applied to protect the nails and enhance durability.

French polishes may sound rather simple, but they are an incredibly difficult do-it-yourself treatment. One wonky tip, or varnish blob or dent will ruin the entire impact of the ‘high maintenance’ aesthetic.

NOTE: Always check with our experts or your chosen spa to determine the exact details of your French manicure or polish.

What’s the difference between a French manicure and French polish?

When you book a French manicure, you will receive some luxurious hand pampering: exfoliation, massage and/or a softening paraffin wax treatment, for example. The therapist will also spend time shaping the nails, neatening cuticles and tackling any other skin or nail condition problems, before applying the French polish, as described above.

Those booking a French polish will see their nails varnished in the expected ‘French’ way, but will receive minimal additional hand or nail pampering. French polishes are often less expensive than French manicures for this reason and are a great choice for those with hands and nails that are already in great condition.

That’s not to say that those with less-than-perfect nails can’t enjoy a French polish. The therapist will work to make your nails look as good as possible, regardless of their current appearance.

A French manicure and French polish can be purchased as part of a gift. So, whether you're looking for someone to accompany you, or you wish to buy a present for that special someone, be sure to check out our spa gift vouchers page.

To learn more about what you can typically expect with a manicure - French or otherwise - at one of the 500+ spas we represent nationwide, please see our manicures guide.

Have a question not answered here? Contact our spa experts today for advice.

Return to SpaSeekers’ Spa Treatments Guide

Other articles you may like…

Alexander House spa massage
The Greenway Hotel and Spa Back Massage