Are Your Cosmetics Safe?

by Claire Mathieson

It can be difficult to sort through the colorful mess of cosmetic and personal care products claiming to be “natural.” With rampant greenwashing the designation “natural” has lost its meaning. It doesn’t help that trying to take control of the matter by inspecting ingredients lists generally makes one feel as though classes in some foreign language are necessary. Because what we put on our bodies can be just as important as what we put in them, we should be conscious of the constituents of our personal care products, giving them just as much attention as we might give a nutrition label.

Unfortunately, many products on the market contain ingredients of questionable safety. According to the FDA, their “legal authority over cosmetics is different from other products regulated by the agency, such as drugs, biologics, and medical devices. Cosmetic products and ingredients are not subject to FDA premarket approval authority, with the exception of color additives.” US cosmetics regulations are surprisingly lax; while the EU has banned over 1,000 chemicals, the US has banned only eight and has placed restrictions on three, the latter category including mercury compounds. This leaves chemicals known to be hazardous to human health – like carcinogens and toxins – in products that can be bought at any drugstore.

There are a couple of ways to deal with this in the short term. First, you can educate yourself about what you shouldn’t be lathering up with; to take the nutrition metaphor one step further, you can learn to distinguish the donuts of the cosmetics world from the spinach. The Environmental Working Group’s database Skin Deep is a great ally in this endeavor. It has thousands of products and ingredients on file and rates them according to safety, taking risks like cancer, allergies, and immunotoxicity into account. Another option – cheap, easy, and potentially fun – is to make your own products. The internet is well stocked with recipes for every sort of cosmetic need imaginable, and most call for ingredients already in the average kitchen.

Here are a few examples to get you started:

Would you wear a face mask made
from tumeric?

Turmeric Facial Mask
• 1 tsp. turmeric powder
• 2 tsp. rice flour
• 3 tbsp. plain yogurt
Mix, apply, let dry for 15-20 minutes, and rinse. (From Crunchy Betty)

Sugar Scrub
• 3 tsp. sugar
• 3 tsp. olive oil
Mix, apply to skin, and rinse.
(Original recipe from Beauty Gone Wild! Herbal Recipes for Gorgeous Skin & Hair by Diane Kidman)

Honey-Cocoa Butter Lip Balm
• 2 tbsp. olive oil
• 1/2 tsp. honey
• 3/4 tsp. grated beeswax
• 1/2 tsp. pure cocoa butter
• Flavored oil of your choice
• 1 vitamin E capsule
In a small saucepan, heat oil, honey, wax, and butter over a low heat until just melted. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 2-3 minutes. Stir in flavoring and contents of vitamin E capsule. Pour into containers of your choice. (From The Daily Green)

Homemade sugar scrub on Etsy!

Finally, if neither researching nor DIY is your thing, Etsy is a nice alternative. While it’s important to realize that Etsy products aren’t regulated and that not all beauty products sold on the site are free of harmful chemicals, they tend to have fewer, more natural ingredients as they are generally made on a small scale by individuals rather than by corporations. It is easy to inquire into the ingredients, and sellers are often open to requests that certain things (e.g., fragrance) be left out.

It can be difficult to find a product that works, let alone one that’s safe, and you shouldn’t be expected to trash your medicine cabinet the second you finish this article. The important thing is to be aware; just because a product’s sold in a store doesn’t make it safe, and alternatives – maybe as close as your kitchen – do exist. Efforts to legislate more rigorous oversight of the cosmetics industry are in the works, like the recently introduced Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act of 2013, but for now it’s up to you to establish the safety of the products you use.

Claire Mathieson is a senior at Barnard and a staff writer for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Image courtesy of Healthy Skin Portal, Crunch Betty, and Etsy.


Tackle Time: Women’s Rugby at Columbia

by Claire Mathieson

On September 21st in Hanover, New Hampshire, a light breeze ruffled through a grassy field as ducks cut swaths across an adjacent pond. Trees ran off into the background as far as the eye could see, dark green touched with the occasional splash of pumpkin orange or apple red hinting at the onset of fall. The scene was peaceful.

Then a cry of “KILL, KILL, KILL!” cut through the air and thirty women launched themselves at each other, some tackling others to the ground, some egging the attackers on, all oblivious to their tranquil surroundings with the game the only thing on their minds.

Like their season-opening game at Dartmouth, The Columbia University Women’s Rugby Football Club (CUWRFC) is somewhat of a contradiction. On the field, the players fight hard, tackling, mauling, rucking, and scrumming their hearts out for eighty minutes (most of these terms are probably foreign, but we’ll leave it at this: they involve physical contact). Off the field though, the team is close not only with each other but with the teams they play against. Rugby is an extremely social sport, and the Dartmouth game wasn’t complete without a pasta-feed prepared by the New Hampshire team and a social (including ridiculous amounts of raucous singing) during which whomever was responsible for blooming bruises was forgotten, or at least forgiven.

“Rugby is an extremely social sport, and the Dartmouth game wasn’t complete without a pasta-feed prepared by the New Hampshire team and a social (including ridiculous amounts of raucous singing) during which whomever was responsible for blooming bruises was forgotten, or at least forgiven.”

Enjoy some sunshine, nurse some bruises

Most Americans are unfamiliar with the basics of rugby, and those who are aware of the sport tend to focus on its characteristic “violent” nature. But, Columbia’s players and coaches alike are friendly and encouraging, and almost everyone who joins CUWRFC doesn’t know the first thing about rugby. New players can show up to any practice without having to worry about being inexperienced; the coaches and veteran players are very good about instructing rookies and keeping in mind that rugby is far from the world’s easiest sport (throwing backwards? that’s a thing?). At Columbia, rugby is a club sport and has only two practices a week, but the team plays throughout the year, the fall season being the main season, with an Ivy League game each weekend. The spring season, though technically in rugby’s off-season, lasts from January until the end of April and is primarily different from the fall in that it does not feature league games but instead holds tournaments such as Beast of the East and Four Leafs. While rugby is not a varsity-level commitment in terms of practice time, the players and coaches make up for this in the amount of heart they devote to the team.

For me, rugby was a new and interesting challenge, as well as both physically and socially engaging. If you’re looking for a new and interesting challenge that will get you in shape and allow you to meet some amazing new people, look no further – rugby is your sport.

CUWRFC practices Monday and Thursday nights at Baker Field. To join, contact recruiter Triny Reyes at

Claire Mathieson is a senior at Barnard, an Assistant Editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing, and a member of CUWRFC.

Images courtesy of Columbia Women’s Rugby.

How to Teach Yourself a Foreign Language

by Claire Mathieson

Learning languages opens up a whole realm of opportunities.

Interested in learning a language this summer but don’t know where to start? While the best and most fun way to familiarize yourself with a foreign language is to travel to somewhere it’s spoken, you can take the first steps towards picking up almost any language you like – whether it’s French, Mandarin, or even Elvish – from the comfort of your own home.

The internet, as we’ve learned both from first-hand experience and Avenue Q, is good for many things. You can waste hours stalking people on Facebook, have a weekend-long Friends marathon, or, yes, watch porn. But you can also do surprisingly constructive things like learn a language. Perhaps you’re thinking about spending a summer in Latin America, or maybe you’ve just always loved the way French sounds. Whatever your reason, once you’ve picked a language, all you need to get started is access to a computer.

One of the most helpful resources is podcasts. iTunes offers hundreds of free podcasts in everything from Russian to Urdu – all you have to do is subscribe and listen. Some offer language lessons and survival phrases, others are news-oriented or play short stories. They are generally tailored to different levels, allowing you to choose your best fit. Some popular ones are “Coffee Break Spanish” and “News in Slow French.”


A number of helpful websites offer interactive environments where one can begin or continue to learn a language. Livemocha, for example, is a social-networking site for learning languages, although the amount of actual social-networking you do is up to you. In addition to offering grammar and vocabulary lessons, Livemocha also offers speaking and writing exercises you can do on your computer that will be critiqued by native speakers – in exchange, you’ll be grading beginner English speakers.

TV and Movies
Watching TV and movies and listening to music can really help to familiarize you with the language and allow you to get a better sense of the way it functions, even if you don’t understand much of what you’re hearing at first. Explore things like YouTube for music and video clips, or google foreign entertainment. A great French resource, for example, is TV5MONDE, which offers news and entertainment and has sections targeted towards those still in the learning process.

Reading Material
Once you’ve reached a proficient level, you can search out articles and stories in your desired language to improve your reading comprehension. Many foreign newspapers offer their articles online, for example Le Monde and Le Figaro (French) and La repubblica and Corriere della Sera (Italian).

Finally, New York City is an invaluable resource. Sites like Meetup can help you find conversation groups to put the skills you’ve learned into practice with native and other learning speakers.

The most important thing is to stick with it and to set yourself goals. There are plenty of resources out there to help you on the way towards bilingualism – all you have to provide is the dedication. With time, you’ll be perfectly comfortable ordering that nutella crepe or chatting up that toreador, and it all starts with that innocuous little search box in the corner of your computer screen.

Claire Mathieson is a junior at Barnard and Features editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Images courtesy of Paris By Appointment Only and Josh Spear.

Zero Waste Life

By Claire Matheison

When was the last time you threw something in the trash? This morning? Last night? Disposing of unwanted items is such a common part of what we do that it’s likely you don’t even remember. It seems impossible to avoid having to throw things away; coffee cups, candy bar wrappers, and Styrofoam packaging work their way into our lives on a daily basis and must be discarded somehow. However, although becoming waste free is certainly difficult, it’s not impossible. Béa Johnson and her family have been maintaining a “zero waste” lifestyle in their Mill Valley, California home for several years now, and only throw out two handfuls of garbage each year.

A few years ago, the Johnsons decided to simplify their lives by getting rid of the majority of their existing material possessions and resolving to make new purchases in such a way that they would have little to no waste left over to discard. When garbage trucks swing by their house each week, they remove a large bin of compostable organic material and a small container of recyclables, but no actual garbage. The Johnsons manage this by bringing their own containers when they shop for food and buying in bulk to avoid packaging. They use cloths in place of paper towels, buy refillable shampoo and soap, and have stocked their home with many multipurpose items, such as a cheese grater that can double as a zester and a sofa that becomes a bed. When it comes to gift giving, they value experiences over things, buying ski passes and gift cards to ice cream stores instead of toys and gadgets. For clothes, Béa shops at thrift stores and keeps her purchases to a minimum, maintaining a simple wardrobe. One essential practice in the Johnson household that goes beyond the cliché of “reduce, reuse, recycle” is refusal. Although avoiding unnecessary disposable packaging in today’s material world is about as easy as avoiding taxis in Manhattan, the Johnsons make a point of resisting the norm by refusing extra packaging.

While the Johnson’s lifestyle is extreme, it can act as an inspiration for those who are interested in modifying their behavior in a manageable way. There are simple ways to cut down on everyday unnecessary waste that people are already familiar with – bringing travel mugs to Starbucks and drinking from reusable water bottles, for example – but we can also make an effort to shop consciously, choosing the products with the least packaging, buying used items such as clothes and dishes when possible, and bringing reusable bags to the store. It’s important to erase the notion of “away” in “throw away,” for garbage doesn’t just vanish but ends up in landfills, which take up space and pollute the environment. Not everyone can emulate the Johnsons, but we can all use their lifestyle as an example to aspire to by gradually reducing the influence of waste on our own lives and on the planet.

Check out Béa’s blog,, for more ideas.

Claire is a junior at Barnard and Features Editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Image courtesy of The Zero Waste Home.

How Tiziano Ferro Taught Me Italian

By Claire Mathieson

I spent my freshman year of college studying in at an American college in Lugano, a city in Italian Switzerland. On the first day of Italian 101, my new professoressa introduced her course with a wink, telling us that the best way to learn Italian is to find yourself an Italian boyfriend or girlfriend. We giggled, she moved on to greetings and numbers, and I forgot about her comment. A month later, I wasn’t fond of Italian – I preferred my original foreign language, French – and I hadn’t made much progress. The night before my first real trip to Italy, I was eating pesto lasagna in the dining hall when a couple of girls drew my attention to the projection screen on the far wall, which, as usual, was playing Italian MTV.

The girls were discussing Kelly Rowland, who was sharing the screen with a dashing, tuxedoed singer I’d never seen. The two danced around a marble mansion and rode speedboats through the Italian lake country, even pulled off a diamond heist. All in all it was pretty ridiculous, but as the English lyrics melded into Italian for the final verse, I was inexplicably enchanted. I memorized the name that bloomed out of the corner of the screen as the song (“Breathe Gentle”) came to a close and went back to my dorm to google the singer, Tiziano Ferro. That night I downloaded his then-most recent album, Alla Mia Età, and I spent my next two weeks in Italy listening to it on repeat, obsessed. I understood only the odd word here and there, but it didn’t matter. I felt like I knew what the songs were about anyway, and the more I listened the more I loved the language, becoming familiar with its sounds, its lilt, its flavor. Back at school, I bought his other three albums and began to read up on everything I could about him, watching interviews and concert footage, joining a fansite and interacting with its members in my rapidly improving Italian, even calling an Italian company in hopes of getting tickets to one of his concerts (which was unfortunately sold out). By the time I returned home to the states at Christmas, I was able to hold my own in short conversations. By the following March, I was reading Harry Potter e Il Calice di Fuoco (also known as Goblet of Fire). The month later, I had a 20-minute argument with the ticket lady at the train station in Lugano, and when my family came to visit for spring break I was able to get us around Italy with no problems.
Now, more than two years later, Ferro’s fifth album has been released. While I am biased towards Alla Mia Età as the album that got me hooked, L’amore É Una Cosa Semplice (Love is a Simple Thing) is packed with gems, particularly “La Differenza Tra Me e Te” (The Difference Between Me and You) and “Smeraldo,” (Emerald) which, like his song with Kelly Rowland – which was an English take on “Indietro” (Backwards) – is reproduced at the end of the album in English as “Karma,” this time with John Legend.

While my Italian professors were great, I would never have been as interested in learning everything I could about the language without Tiziano Ferro. In a way, I’d followed the advice of my professoressa, not finding a boyfriend, exactly, but someone to anchor me to the language and encourage me to immerse myself in it. If you feel you need an extra push in learning your foreign language of choice, listening to music is a great way to get yourself used to the sound and shape of the language, but the most important thing is to find something about it that you’re absolutely crazy about and which will keep you interested and learning even outside of the classroom.

Claire is a junior at Barnard and Features Editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Image courtesy of

Turning Awareness into Action: Barnard’s “Environmental Leadership, Ethics and Action” class

By Claire Mathieson

Setting the stage.

It has been a whirlwind semester for the twelve students in the interdisciplinary Science and Public Policy  program’s Environmental Leadership, Ethics, and Action class. On Wednesday December 7th they presented their Green Action Projects at the panel “Awareness into Action II: Speaking Out on the Environment.” Professor Diane Dittrick of Barnard’s Environmental Science department asked the students to spend the semester pursuing an environmental passion and become an expert on it, keeping weekly blogs along the way. Assisted by environmental journalist Katherine Bagley, the students learned how to write professional blog posts, the best of which were published on the Natural Resources Defense Council’s blog On Earth. Wednesday night was the culmination of their work, when they finally showed the semester’s results to the public.

The topics varied from one end of the environmental spectrum to the other, with short presentations on community gardens, composting, hydrofracking, the collapse of bee colonies and coral reefs, biomimicry, eating sustainably, environmental art, the overharvesting of medicinal plants, the degradation of the Tibetan grasslands, social justice in communities devastated by oil extraction, and conflict minerals in the Congo.

Students present their work.

Throughout the semester, the students had researched their topics and performed the journalistic aspects of the course (such as interviews) on their own. In class, they delved into environmental literature, discussing and debating leadership and ethics through a green lens, led by Professor Dittrick and Professor Randall Balmer of the Religion department. Each student had a different background when it came to the environment and majors varied from Environmental Science and Chemistry to Spanish and Anthropology. Drawing on models like Majora Carter and John Francis, students were encouraged to find the vision and the drive within themselves to become leaders in the environmental movement.

Professor Dittrick, who had taught the class only once before, was extremely pleased with each student’s results and declared the panel a success. After the presentations, the students opened the floor for questions, encouraging other Barnard students and members of the community to join in on the same discussions that they have been having weekly throughout the semester. Despite the heavy nature of many of the topics, there was an air of lightness in the room as the evening came to a close. After months of hard work, each student had fulfilled what she had set out to do: encourage action through heightened awareness.

Claire is a junior at Barnard and Features Editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing. She was in the Environmental Leadership, Ethics and Action class this semester.

Your Local Glacier Walk

By Claire Mathieson

Glacial striations in Central Park

Winter is on its way in and the city is getting progressively chillier, but you should be thankful it’s not much worse; Manhattan is nowhere near as cold now as it once was. Just 20,000 years ago (mere seconds in geologic time), Manhattan was covered in a sheet of ice a mile thick. During the most recent Ice Age, which lasted from about 95,000 years ago to 20,000 years ago, the Laurentide ice sheet covered over 5 million square miles of North America, spreading from the Arctic over much of Canada and the northern United States. New York City was right on its margin and, while fortunately for us the glacier itself has long since melted, there is still a great deal of evidence of its presence right here in Manhattan.

Glacial erratics in Central Park (a.k.a. those awesome
climbing rocks when you were younger)

Today, Central Park is rife with joggers, tourists, and yappy dogs, but the large rocks that protrude all over the park date way back to when Manhattan was under a glacier. For those of you who never took earth science, glaciers are vast ice sheets that form when more snow falls during the winter, then melts during the summer over a period of many years. Glaciers move, slowly but surely, and as they do, they “pluck” rocks from the Earth, dragging them along with them. These rocks scrape against the ground, creating striations like the ones seen in Central Park. Sometimes, these rocks are left behind by the glacier and stand in place where they are left. They are then known as glacial erratics and are often composed of a type of rock that is not common to the region, as they have been moved long distances by the glacier. Central Park has some extremely impressive striations and glacial erratics that are obvious enough to see on your morning walk. To see evidence even closer to home, head over to Morningside Park, which has its own share of striations.

Many of the striations show up in Manhattan schist, a type of rock extremely common to the area.Manhattan schist was created millions of years ago, when underwater landslides and the shifting of plate tectonics caused land masses in North America to compress like an accordion, shunting it both upwards into tall mountains and downwards into the Earth. This caused the formation of a kind of reverse mountain range, which was unseen, but massive. Due to intense temperature and pressure brought on by being jammed deep into the Earth, schist gradually formed from specific types of sedimentary rock.

Over millions of years the schist grew closer to the surface as the land over it eroded, and it became bare to the world by the time the glacier came along. The glaciers dragged boulders over the schist, which shapes much of the topography we know today. Even Long Island is a product of the glacier, known as a terminal moraine, formed when the glacier began to retreat and left a pile of sediments in its wake.

It’s easy to think of Manhattan as a formation of steel, glass, and neon, but in reality the island has spent longer beneath an icy monolith than it has playing host to the American civilization. You don’t have to worry about a glacier plowing through the city any time soon, but as the gentle reminder of winter rolls in, take a moment to think on the region’s past, when nature reigned and the only thing in vogue was polar white.

Claire is a junior at Barnard and Features Editor for The Nine Ways of Knowing. She is studying Environmental Science.

Photos courtesy of Glaciers Online, Microecos and Sarah Lipkis.