I think we all owe face wash an apology—at least I do, anyway! For years, I always considered my cleanser the least important part of my skincare routine. I'd splash some water on my face, slather on the cheapest face wash I could find at the drugstore, mush it around for, oh, a good ten seconds, and then I'd rinse. Ugh. Let's just say I know so much better now! For one, most experts say we should spend at least one full minute massaging our face wash into our face, a time frame that ensures we get every last crumb of naughties expunged from our pores.
So set a timer, listen to half of your favorite tune, or just guesstimate. Secondly, the formulation of your face wash can and will make a significant difference in the health and look of your complexion. (Take it from someone who learned the hard way—that her cleanser was solely responsible for a never-ending cycle of breakouts.)
Additionally, some face washes are equipped with higher-quality, strategic ingredients if you're looking to boost your skin with an extra dose of anti-aging perks. No, your cleanser still won't be as important as your serums and moisturizers since those are the products that will spend the most quality time on your skin, but every little bit helps, and using the right face wash with the right ingredients can definitely encourage a plump, balanced, hydrated, all-around youthful-looking complexion. If you're into that kind of thing!
To give us the lay of the land where the best anti-aging face washes are concerned, I reached out to celebrity facialist Renée Rouleau and Joshua Zeichner, MD, FAAD. Ahead, they'll be breaking down what to avoid and what to look for whilst face wash shopping, in addition to the specific products they recommend. Keep scrolling for the lowdown.
But wait, can a face wash really be anti-aging?
Sorry to be confusing, but kind of yes and kind of no. "I wouldn't say that a face wash can be anti-aging, per se, but what I know to be true is that skin cells are like fish and they need water to live," clarifies Rouleau. In order to keep your skin looking healthy and in tip-top shape, she explains that it's important to use a non-drying cleanser that won't strip essential, glow-giving moisture from your complexion. (If you're stripping the skin, you're causing damage to the protective barrier which, in turn, can expedite visible signs of aging.)
Since cleansers are only mingling with our skin for a minute, maximum, Rouleau says there's no need to waste your money and efforts on face wash formulas packed with anti-aging actives—they simply won't have the time that serums and moisturizers do to effectively penetrate the skin. That said, she notes a face wash that utilizes gentle exfoliating beads can softly whisk away any dulling dry skin cells hanging out on the surface of our skin. Once they're gone, you'll likely notice a brighter, smoother, younger-looking finish.
"I look at face washes as short contact therapies for the skin," agrees Zeichner. "They can exert meaningful effects, so long as they are used the right way. I typically have people lather therapeutic cleansers on the skin and let them sit while you sing the alphabet to yourself which ensures enough contact time for the ingredients to do their jobs."
What to look for in an anti-aging face wash…
Zeichner notes that before we all get ahead of ourselves with fancy-schmancy extras, it's important to remember the actual purpose of your face wash: to remove the soiling of the skin without compromising the integrity of the skin barrier.
"First, do no harm," he warns, "Over-scrubbing does more harm than good and can disrupt the outer skin layer, leading to irritation and inflammation. Think of your cleanser as the foundation of a skincare routine. It provides a fresh canvas for the rest of your skincare products. You want to make sure that canvas is clean, intact, and well hydrated."
That said, if you're looking for a specific ingredient strategy for your next face wash purchase, Zeichner likes certain additions like hydroxy acids (which can provide anti-aging benefits through their exfoliating effects) and any high-quality hydrating ingredients which you can also find in traditional moisturizers. Specifically, Rouleau mentions glycerin, aloe vera, and panthenol which are all moisture-binding humectants and therefore great for encouraging a plump, dewy complexion.
And ingredients to avoid…
According to both Rouleau and Zeichner, sulfates such as sodium laurel sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, ammonium laureth sulfate, and ammonium laurel sulfate are on a strict do not call list if you're looking for a gentle, hydrating face wash enriched with anti-aging benefits. "These ingredients generally have a high pH so they can put your skin at risk for dehydration when used in a cleanser," Rouleau points out.
Zeichner also recommends avoiding cleansers that contain synthetic fragrances which are linked to skin allergies if you're super sensitive. Oh, and while we're on the topic of sensitivity, you can nix other buzzy ingredients like retinol and potent antioxidants from your face wash shopping list since Zeichner notes that it is still unclear whether or not they're effective in the form of a cleanser versus other approved carriers like serums and creams.
The best anti-aging face washes, according to experts…
"This cleanser contains a blend of lactic and glycolic acid to exfoliate and brighten the skin. The formula also contains a specialized sugar known as glycerol glucoside, which acts as a super humectant to keep the skin hydrated and plump."—Zeichner
"This is a great exfoliating face wash for smoother skin due to gentle jojoba beads which lift away dry skin cells and refreshing the mint botanicals. The skin is left looking brighter and smoother while being non-drying to the skin."—Rouleau
"RoC's Multi Correxion Revive + Glow Gel Cleanser delivers glycolic acid in a gentle gel formula that can be used across all skin types without causing dryness or irritation."—Zeichner
"This face wash creates a clean slate for your skincare routine. It is ultra-gentle and hydrating with aloe and vitamin E to soothe the skin, moisturize, and brighten."—Zeichner
"For dry, sensitive skin types, this cleanser helps to clean the skin while retaining hydration within the skin cells."—Rouleau
"This is the OG of cleansers. It is my go-to recommendation for people with aging or dry skin. It is a mix of oil and water that gently removes dirt and grease as well as makeup without drying out the skin. I put it in the anti-aging face wash category due to its ability to hydrate and protect the skin barrier."—Zeichner
"A foaming cleanser that delivers a mix of hydroxy acids including gluconolactone, a polyhydroxy acid that actually delivers hydrating and calming benefits to the skin. It is mild enough that it can be used daily."—Zeichner
The best anti-aging face washes, according to beauty editors…
This milky, pH-balanced cleanser is loaded with anti-aging benefits and a delectable treat for parched skin this summer. You might literally sigh in relief as you massage it into your cheeks.
Meet Tata Harper's newest face wash—a gentle, softness-effusing concoction that's dreamy for ultra-sensitive and mature skin alike. It contains a litany of rejuvenating ingredients that will soothe and hydrate skin sans stripping.
Have you tried Glossier's new cleanser yet? If not, our editorial team highly recommends you do so. Each glass bottle teems with fragrance-free ingredients designed to caress your skin with purifying ingredients that effectively exfoliate the skin for a brighter finish without agitating a healthy skin environment.
We talk about this silky cleansing serum a lot here on Who What Wear, but it's well worth every second of air time. It's filled with high-quality ingredients designed to calm, soothe, and infuse cranky skin with TLC while still effectively cleansing and detoxifying. A little goes a long way, so each bottle will last at least a few months, depending on how often you use it throughout the day.
We all know about the out-of-this-world anti-aging benefits of Augustinus Bader's iconic face creams, and now that same cell-rejuvenating technology has been stirred into the brand's creamy cleanser launch. In addition to the patented TCF8 action, a lush mix of botanicals—organic rose water, cucumber extract, and aloe leaf juice tag team to reduce redness, clean up lingering breakouts, and tighten up enlarged pores.
This daily gel cleanser is anything but basic. It's oil-free and safe for all skin types and lightly lathers into a frothy foam that banishes any ills that accumulate through the day or night without leaving your complexion with that dreaded dry and tight sensation.