Lifestyle, News   //  08/16/12
Our Interview with the Amazing Penelope Chaffer of “Toxic Baby”
Tata Harper Skincare recently had the honor of participating in a New York City film screening of the documentary Toxic Baby, written, directed and produced by the gifted and creative Penelope Chaffer. Penelope is a passionate mom (not to mention an Academy Award nominated filmmaker) who undertook this documentary project to educate us (and especially other moms) about everyday chemical exposure as a result of foods we eat, products we use, and encounters in our daily environment, and the risk of passing on these chemicals to our children’s bodies. She took a creative approach to the film by giving it some pizzaz with unique music and animation, making it quite a visually fascinating experience, but the message is clear: while we may not be aware, the exposure our babies and children face to thousands of chemicals every day pose a growing danger to their health, in terms of developmental disorders, cancers and life-threatening diseases. It’s alarming stuff, but important, because by making changes in our decisions as consumers we can greatly minimize our exposure and therefore risk!
We wanted to learn more about what inspired her to create this documentary so we got in touch with some questions, and she shares her answers below. Needless to say she is an inspiration, and we love her commitment to spreading the word about the health risks associated with synthetic chemicals and the possibility of a healthy, natural alternative lifestyle. Plus, she’s a big fan of our products!
When did you first start becoming passionate about toxins in products, in the environment and in our bodies?

I started buying organic food back in 1996 when I lived in London, and shortly after moved on to greener cleaning products. In saying that, I didn’t really understand the long term effects of chemicals or how poisonous they were, I just felt chemicals in my food and air didn’t sound like a good idea.
It took on more relevance when I started planning my first child and really kicked in and became my life’s passion when my son was born.  Not long after, I found out at a baby’s birthday party that parabens, thought to be the number one preservative in baby care products, are estrogenic and had been found in breast cancer tumors.  I got sucked through the rabbit hole when I found out that was true.

Penelope Jagessar Chaffer speaking at TEDWomen, Dec. 2012 in Washington DC

For those unfamiliar with your documentary, what was your goal when you set out to create Toxic Baby?

I just wanted parents and particularly mothers to be aware that the science was categorically showing that chemicals found in every day products had the ability to affect the health of our kids.  I felt that parents should be making informed decisions on what to buy and use based on science, not because of marketing campaigns and trends.  I wanted mothers and women who may not have kids right now but will one day have them, to understand that the burden of this issue fall particularly hard on them.  They make over 80% of the purchasing decisions in a household and also donate their toxic burden to their children when pregnant (and have more of certain environmental chemicals than men through their use of skin care, personal care and cosmetic products).
As a filmmaker, I also wanted my audience to have a cinematic experience, so a lot of thought went into how I can make this cool and innovative, and how can I convey the science in a way that the audience can understand.  I use cutting edge animation and design and a really cool soundtrack to make a film for the MTV generation that grew up and had kids.  It’s super cool science like you’ve never seen before.

What is the main thing you hope your audiences will take away from your film?
First, that this issue is real, that it is the most important environmental and health issue our children face, and that it’s also an issue that we can and should do much about.  I also hope that people feel compelled to support the Safe Chemicals Act, which is currently in the Senate. (You can learn more about the act here)

Penelope speaking at a “Healthy Child Healthy World” conference

What advice do you have for women who have already cleaned out their beauty cabinets of chemicals but want to do more to protect themselves and their families?

First of all, I would congratulate them!  Beauty is often the place where we struggle the most because clean alternatives traditionally are hard to come by.  That’s one of the reasons why I applaud what Tata has done.
In terms of other areas, I always say look at your diet first.  Eat less processed foods, make the switch to organic particularly for meat and dairy.  Research the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list of most sprayed produce.
Beware of microwaving food and using non stick cookware.  Switch to green cleaning products and beware of scented products such as candles, air freshners and laundry sprays.  These are all good places to start.
Healthy Child Healthy World has five areas and are a great resource in making a change.

If there was one thing you wished all mothers or expecting women everywhere knew, what would it be?

That toxic chemical have the ability to change your child’s gene expression and affect their long term health and that there are steps that you can do to reduce exposures to these chemicals.

What do you think your next project will be?

My children are my number one priority so they are always my primary “project”.  I’m fortunate to be able to balance my work with them, so in terms of work “projects” Toxic Baby is taking on a life on its own.  We have a number of apps coming out that will really help people to live a less toxic life.  Our first one will launch in the next month.  There’s also discussions of expanding it out into a multi part series so we can examine the issues in much greater detail.  Toxicity is having a major cultural moment and I’m finding that people really want to know and do whatever it takes to lead a less toxic life.  In my spare time, I tinker away at a script I’m writing for my first feature, and I am hoping to move forward with that soon.
In terms of right now, I have been chosen as Organic Valley’s celebrity ambassador for their new American Cheese Tour, which is taking place across the country.  It’s a great mission to encourage and educate parents on preparing and eating “real” food.  Pledges to the mission translate to donations for Healthy Child Healthy World, which Michelle Obama named as one of her favorite causes. HCHW is the number one organization for parents looking to create a less toxic environment.


Thank you Jessica!

You can learn more about Jessica’s film and past projects at Here’s a link to her film’s Facebook page, and you can follow Jessica’s movie on Twitter by clicking here. It’s never late to learn more- the information’s out there!


  1. Such an interesting interview, especially because I have a young child at home. Thanks very much!

    Comment by Sophie — 08/16/2012 @ 7:20 am
  2. I haven’t watched this yet, but will now that it’s been brought to my attention. I think it’s really amazing how often chemicals in the environment are overlooked. I think more than trying to fight it, we just accept it because we are uneducated about alternatives. A lot of the times I find that people aren’t always willing to put in the effort to change their lifestyle habits. I think it would be great to have a multi part series on toxicity; the more you educate people, the more knowledge we have to come up with alternatives together. By reducing exposure to the greatest toxins in the environment, I think we can dramatically reduce cancer rates in this world.

    Comment by Lyanna — 08/16/2012 @ 11:07 am
  3. I think Lyanna is exactly correct with her point that consumers are uneducated about alternative environmentally and human friendly products. The other thing that may prevent people from “doing the right thing” is can they afford the non-toxic product? I can already hear you saying, “How can they afford NOT to?” But that is a real barrier for thousands of people. Do I spend more on cleaning products, food, etc, and then possibly not be able to pay my utilities, or get myself further in debt by buying on credit? Don’t get me wrong- I think the more people know, they will find alternatives, somehow. Knowledge is power, but so is the Almighty Dollar. The average Betty Jo might not seem very threatening to manufacturers, but she and a few thousand of her like-minded friends can make a difference.

    Comment by Mary — 08/20/2012 @ 6:53 am

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