Reforming federal cosmetics law: What is the Modernization of Cosmetics Regulation Act?

Almost a year ago, President Joe Biden signed the Modernization of Cosmetics Regulation Act of 2022, or MoCRA, into law, marking the first significant update to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act since 1938. The law takes effect on December 29. 

MoCRA grants the Food and Drug Administration more control over cosmetics, introducing recall authority, facility registration requirements and improved labeling.

While the law is a step in the right direction, it doesn't compel the FDA to review or restrict harmful chemicals. The U.S. has lagged behind more than 80 other countries who have taken action to protect their citizens from chemicals linked to cancer and reproductive harm. The European Union continues to review the safety of chemicals, adding 29 ingredients to its ban list in 2023 alone. That’s nearly three times the total ingredients banned by the FDA – ever. 

Every day, consumers in the U.S. are exposed to an average of two ingredients linked to cancer and two linked to chemicals that can harm the reproductive and development systems. Women use more personal care products than men, so they are exposed to more unique ingredients daily. 

The largest sources of ingredient exposures are body care, skin care and cosmetics. 

According to a 2023 survey commissioned by EWG, the average woman uses 13 products every day, containing 114 unique ingredients. On average, men use 11 products daily, with 105 unique ingredients, compared to a 2004 EWG study finding they used six products containing 85 unique chemicals.

While MoCRA marks a welcome first step toward fixing the broken cosmetics safety law, there is still substantial work to be done to ensure the safety of chemicals used in personal care products. The new law falls short of compelling the FDA to review and potentially restrict or ban chemicals. But it gives the agency important new authorities.

New FDA powers under MoCRA 

  • Reporting adverse events: MoCRA expands the definition of serious adverse events for cosmetics, improving transparency. Starting December 29, companies must report such events within 15 days, with records maintained for six years. 
  • Recall authority overview: The FDA is now empowered to intervene in health-related events caused by cosmetics, requesting recalls. Non-compliance can lead to an immediate stop to distribution.
  • Register facilities and consumer products: Cosmetic facilities must register with the FDA by July 1, 2024. New facilities need to register within 60 days of production or by February 27, 2024. On December 18, the FDA launched Cosmetics Direct, a portal for companies to register facilities and list their personal care products.
  • Good manufacturing processes: MoCRA grants the FDA authority to set standards for cosmetic facilities, emphasizing quality control and sanitary conditions. The aim is to prevent adulteration or contamination of personal care products, and facilitate FDA inspections to ensure product integrity.
  • Improved labels: From December 29, 2024, product labels must include domestic contact information for reporting adverse events. 
  • Disclose fragrance allergens: Starting July 29, 2024, fragrance allergens must be labeled on personal care products.
  • Safety substantiation: Companies must maintain records supporting safety substantiation, even though the FDA isn't mandated to review them. 
  • Talc-containing cosmetics: The FDA must develop a rigorous screening method to detect asbestos – a deadly human carcinogen for which there is no safe level of exposure – in talc used in personal care products. In 2020, laboratory tests of talc-based cosmetics commissioned by EWG found asbestos in almost 15 percent of samples, including products marketed to children. That analysis called attention to the inadequate methods used by the cosmetics industry to screen talc supplies. 
  • PFAS in cosmetics: The use of the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS in personal care products will be assessed for safety and risks based on scientific evidence, potentially through consulting with the National Center for Toxicological Research. A summary report of the findings must be issued within three years.

Focus on state laws

MoCRA does preserve the crucial authority of states to ban or regulate chemicals of concern in personal care products. The hard work of regulating ingredients now falls to the states. 

To fill the void left by the lack of federal action, states have passed laws to regulate chemicals used in personal care products like cosmetics – and continued vigilance at the state level is vital. 

Twenty states have passed laws limiting certain substances in cosmetics, including California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin. These chemicals have stricter limits in these states due to concerns about their potential health effects: 1,4-dioxane, cadmium, color additives, formaldehyde, mercury, parabens, PFAS, phthalates, methyl alcohol and methyl methacrylate.

Nothing in MoCRA prevents states from proceeding to ban or restrict cosmetics ingredients. States can determine if an ingredient is allowed in cosmetics and how much of it can be used.

Here are some of the laws recently enacted to regulate chemicals in cosmetics by states:


California has been a pioneer in safeguarding consumers and salon workers against harmful substances in personal care products. The state first implemented the Safe Cosmetics Act, requiring manufacturers to reveal the presence of Proposition 65 chemicals linked to cancer or birth defects in their personal care products. California then passed the Professional Cosmetics Labeling Requirements Act, mandating ingredient labels on professional salon products. In 2020, a significant victory happened for consumers with the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act, which banned 24 toxic chemicals from cosmetics sold in California. Led by EWG, along with partners like Black Women for Wellness, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, and CALPIRG, this initiative marked a crucial milestone. That same year, the Cosmetic Fragrance and Flavor Ingredient Right to Know Act was enacted, requiring disclosure of fragrance mixture ingredients in personal care products. In 2022, California took a monumental step by banning all intentionally added PFAS from personal care products, effective on January 1, 2025. The state continued its commitment this year by banning 26 more chemicals from cosmetics.


In 2022, Colorado banned the entire family of PFAS from cosmetics. The ban will go into effect on January 1.


In 2021, Maryland passed a law banning 24 chemicals from use in personal care products.


Passed in 2021, this state law bans the sale of a wide range of consumer products, including cosmetics, with intentionally added PFAS starting in 2030.


In 2023, Minnesota enacted Amara’s Law, which bans the nonessential use of PFAS from consumer products like cosmetics. Ten years earlier, the state banned formaldehyde, a cancer-causing chemical, from use in personal care products marketed for children under age eight like lotions, shampoos and bubble bath.

New York

In 2022, the state passed maximum allowable concentrations of 1,4 dioxane for cosmetics. On December 23 the same year, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a bill banning mercury in personal care products and cosmetics, which took effect on June 1.


The Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act passed this year prohibits all PFAS, formaldehyde and formaldehyde releasers methylene glycol, mercury, triclosan and ortho-phthalates from cosmetics and personal care products sold in the state beginning in 2027. Manufacturers will be required to publicly disclose all chemical ingredients on their product websites effective Jan. 1, 2025.


In 2008, Washington passed the Children’s Safe Products Act, which requires manufacturers of children’s products – including personal care products – to report chemicals of high concern to children in their products. In 2023, Washington enacted the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act, which bans intentionally added chemicals like the entire class of PFAS, ortho-phthalates, formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasers methylene glycol, mercury, triclosan, m-phenylenediamine and its salts, and o-phenylenediamine and its salts. The bans take effect in 2025, except for formaldehyde releasers, with a phased-in approach beginning in 2026. After January 1, 2025, any product containing or contaminated with lead compounds above 1 part per million will be banned from sale in the state.

Moving the market to healthier options

In 2004, EWG created the Skin Deep® database to provide online profiles for ingredients and personal care products, revealing potential hazards and health concerns. The aim was to fill the significant data gaps left by industry and the government. EWG's team of scientists assesses product labels and websites, referencing nearly 60 toxicity and regulatory databases to provide easy-to-navigate ingredient and product ratings.

Many products on the market today contain chemicals linked to health issues. With a growing awareness of potential health hazards, consumers are demanding transparency and question the safety of the personal care products they use every day. More and more, shoppers are looking to trusted third party evaluators to navigate the marketplace.

The EWG VERIFIED® program was developed to aid consumers in navigating the saturated market of “clean” products. The EWG VERIFIED mark only appears on products that meet our robust ingredient and transparency requirements, making it a trusted way for people to make informed choices about consumer products.

For people on the go, EWG’s Healthy Living App provides ratings and safety information for quick reference, empowering consumers to make informed choices, especially for products without the EWG VERIFIED mark.  

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