How to cut and look after your nails correctly

Keep them short, don’t be afraid to file – and remember to moisturise, says a leading dermatologist

Nails should be kept fairly short. The longer they are, the more easily they are damaged – especially your fingernails, if you work with your hands. If they are fine, you can use a normal clipper; for anything thicker – usually toenails, but sometimes fingernails – you will need a heavy-duty version. Use a nail file for shaping, or if it hurts when you clip your nails. You don’t need to use it in just one direction, but do file gently to avoid damage.

Fingernails should be given a curve, while toenails should be cut straight across, to prevent ingrowth. You can cut a little down the sides of your toenails, especially if you are prone to ingrowing toenails, to take them away from the skin. If you have persistent problems with an ingrowing toenail, you will need to see a doctor.

Your nails will be softer after a bath or shower, so if you have thicker nails it may be easier to cut them then. With brittle nails, however, cutting them when they are soft may make things worse.

There is no harm in giving your cuticles a gentle trim, but don’t overdo it – they protect your nail bed from infection by keeping out debris.

You should moisturise your hands and feet, including your nails and cuticles, every day. The thicker the cream, the better. If you use polish, give your nails a break from time to time so that air and moisturiser can reach them and prevent discolouration.

Dr Sweta Rai is a spokesperson for the British Association of Dermatologists


The Dodow: the latest sleep aid looks like a wheel of brie – I wake up starving

This unpronounceable LED device claims to help those with insomnia – I give it a whack and prepare to bust some ZZZs

This week we turn our attention to a light metronome, called Dodow, that claims to be able to train your brain to fall asleep. This sounds similar to the fantastical pseudo-science that promised us x-ray specs 30 years ago, but stick with it. The LED device projects a ring of blue light on to the ceiling that shrinks and expands. Synchronising your breathing with it stimulates the baroreflex, a physiological mechanism that slows the metabolism and the secretion of neurotransmitters. Basically, breathe in and chill out.

Dodow is “designed by insomniacs”, which doesn’t sound like something to boast about. Whenever I check my phone after a sleepless night, the Notes app is full of unfathomable fragments that struck me as very important at 3am. Stuff such as “Velcro is immortal” and “Am I making blood all the time?”

This addled nonsense proves that good sleep is the most crucial element of any attempt at wellness, or normal functioning. It is something I have struggled with for much of my life, and Dodow understands. The box has the Proustian inscription “Only the insomniac knows the relief of sleep regained” along its edge, in case you didn’t realise it was made by a French company.

As a side note, I am uncertain of the correct way to say Dodow. Here are my best guesses. 1) De-doe: like the sound you hear when you launch Netflix, or the noise Scooby-Doo makes when he is scared. 2) Dodo, as in: “Dead as a …” Is it possible to sleep too soundly? If you are medically dead, then yes. 3) Doo-dau: Relating to the proper pronunciation of “tao”, Chinese symbol for “the path”. Given the product’s philosophical leaning, my money is on this.

With everything to play for, I whack the doo-hickey and prepare to bust some ZZZs. Then I remember this kind of extroverted, stimulating behaviour is best avoided at bedtime. Instead, I gently place the device on my nightstand and double-tap its textured top, which activates the 20-minute programme; a single tap initiates an eight-minute version.

I am initially disappointed by the circle on the ceiling. I had pictured a spotlight; the kind that might pick out Daniel Craig in the opening of Casino Royale. Sadly, it is less tightly defined than that, producing more of a pulsing, ambient glow. It lights up the objects near it, which is distracting, as I am sensitive to the smallest particle of light in the bedroom. (If I ever have a visitor, I tell them, please, no photons.)

With the Dodow, I’m slipping into a rice-pudding-y brainwave.
 With the Dodow, I’m slipping into a rice-pudding-y brainwave. Photograph: Linda Nylind/the Guardian

The device’s throbbing blue light, however, is really quite strong. A bit like an ambulance has stopped in your street and you have opened the curtains to have a look. I turn the brightness to its lowest setting and try an exercise from the booklet: attempting to focus 50% of my attention on synchronous breathing, plus two lots of 25% on sensations in my lower navel and surrounding environment. I have never been good at maths, though. If one train leaves Leeds at 11am at 100mph and another leaves London at noon, how long until I can stop doing homework in my head? This freaky blue light can do-do one.

Over the 20 minutes, something shifts. The ersatz moonshine surges blue and pacific; I start to feel less caught up in mental chatter. I can’t say much more than that, because organised thoughts are not part of the rice-pudding-y brainwave I have slipped into and I am unconscious before the cycle is up. The next night, I am awake to see the light turn off, but fall asleep shortly after. I am not sure how Dodow would cope with my insomnia at its height, yet it is humbling to feel what reliable organisms we are, that simply slowing breathing has a real effect. I can also imagine it being helpful during a panic attack or night terrors.

It does confirm my suspicion that good sleep hygiene is punishingly tedious. I think I actually enjoy a bit of mental chatter, for the company, and I won’t be changing my routine: I still prefer a sleep mask and the lull of a Radio 4 documentary, because, even if I don’t drop off, at least I have learned something about terracotta owls, or whatever. But it feels reassuring to have the Dodow nearby. Another arrow in the quiver to slay the monster of insomnia. Or at least bore it into submission.

The lowlight

In semi-darkness, the device looks like a wheel of brie left next to the bed. I woke up starving.

Wellness or hellness?

Come on Scooby Doo, where are you? We’ve got some work to Dodow. 4/5


Naturopaths are snake-oil salespeople masquerading as health professionals

Researching for a feature about naturopaths, I was committed to hearing both sides. What I discovered shocked me

When I began researching and conducting interviews for a feature about naturopaths, I was doggedly determined to keep an open mind. Journalism 101 dictates balance: a fair hearing to both sides. My commitment was to present the unbiased truth; I was about to embark on a learning journey, as journalists often do.

I interviewed academics from Sydney, Melbourne and the UK, senior medical professionals, sceptics, authors on the subject, naturopaths themselves, those who use them, the professional body for naturopaths, the Australian Medical Associated, the Department of Health, and a naturopath turned dissenter. What I discovered shocked me.

We’ve recently fixated on expunging “fake news” but the medical world also has its charlatans. The snake-oil salespeople, masquerading as health professionals, are naturopaths. They don’t need to go to medical school to put up a sign and declare themselves a “naturopath” – as a doctor would. In fact, anyone can call themselves a naturopath. It isn’t a registered profession, even its official body only requires a bachelor’s degree to grant membership.

From 1 April, private health customers cannot claim rebates on naturopathic treatments. It’s a wonder it took this long; government subsidies were at best generous, and at the very least, misguided. They bestowed upon naturopaths and homeopaths an undeserved credibility. But from this year, no more.

Rarely, in over a decade of features reporting, have I been so leant on to influence what I write, and what I don’t write. That in itself should raise alarm bells. Loud ones.

At first, it was the sceptics who warned me. “Gary, please be careful not to promote their false claims,” a renowned author wrote to me. “A naturopath might claim to treat diabetes or offer natural alternatives to vaccination, but the evidence simply doesn’t exist beyond the basic level of good health and diet.”

Rarely, in over a decade of features reporting, have I been so leant on to influence what I write, and what I don’t write

I soldiered on, not compromising my neutrality. Yeah, the cynic in me thought, you’re trying to sell a book on your scepticism. I’ll come to my own conclusions, thanks.

Journalism beyond the 101 is more complex. Much like climate change deniers, I was conscious of providing a false equivalency if the science is settled. It isn’t: academics from both Sydney and Melbourne universities gave cautious examples of positive naturopathic experiences. But with them came big caveats, namely, that the evidence is low level and inconclusive, and that consumers should be very cautious if they’re promised a “cure” for any serious conditions such as cancer. Or if advised against care from their medical practitioner. The warning exists because this actually happens. Those alarm bells just got louder.

Conditions on participating in the interview were imposed: quotes from my telephone interview required approval in context. They demanded to see the full piece prior to publication, something I very rarely do. Reluctantly, I agreed, so they wouldn’t decline the interview and compromise the balance to which I’d committed.

There were attempts to discredit the academics I interviewed, and shoehorn their own, cherry-picked ones in. A senior Cambridge University educated medical professional I interviewed – a dissenter – was labelled “ignorant”. I was told that if I really cared about the public, and if I had any credibility as a journalist, I’d remove the sceptical comments. There was a transparent attempt to rubbish a former naturopath who now speaks out against the industry. A demand to see a revised piece was then made. I declined, asking that my professionalism and independence as a journalist was respected.

Surely, if they truly had faith in their practice, naturopaths would let the results speak for themselves, rather than spending time being hyper-defensive and trying to discredit trained medical professionals.

There’s deluded, and then there’s dangerous. Only the former is forgivable. In April 2018, disgraced Sydney practitioner Marilyn Bodnar was sentenced to at least seven months in jail. She’d put a breastfeeding mother on a liquid-only diet and told her to stop conventional medical treatments. The baby was emaciated, severely dehydrated, had sunken eyes, dangerously low sodium levels and flexed hands and feet. He almost starved to death.

“Big pharma hates the money we make,” one naturopath complained on the incoming changes that’ll see subsidies revoked.

At a time when trust levels are historically low – towards the banks, politicians and big pharma – it may be tempting to jump on the trend of turning against “experts” and instead prioritising feelings over facts in the interest of “balance.” But I’m resisting that doggedly.

I don’t mean to dismiss anyone who’s had a positive naturopathic experience, but the naturopaths who are trained nutritionists are, quelle surprise, likely to give good nutritional advice. For all else: never underestimate the power of the placebo. Except when what you really need is tried and tested medicine.