The 4 Best Anti-Aging Face Washes (& Cleansers) in 2021

The 4 Best Anti-Aging Face Washes (& Cleansers)

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best anti aging face wash
In a hurry? Here are our top picks:

BEST FOR SENSITIVE & ACNE-PRONE SKIN

ZELEN Life Cleanser

When we think of anti-aging, the majority of us think of an expensive cream, or serum with nearly magical properties.

If you regularly follow our articles, however, you will know that aging and indeed skin aging is a multifaceted process. If you want the most effective anti-aging routine it’s best to tackle the issue from multiple angles.

To help guide our readers we have put together our top picks of the best anti-aging face washes and anti-aging cleansers.

Bear in mind that this is not meant to be a one-stop-shop for reversing signs of aging. The best approach takes into account all the steps in your skin care regimen and also how you live your life day-to-day.

Be sure to check out the many skin care guides in our blog–giving any products you purchase a solid foundation to build upon.

Quick summary

bb2-table__imageZELEN Life Cleanser
  • Loaded with Vitamin C, a powerful "anti-aging" antioxidant
  • Plant-based organic formula, cruelty-free and vegan-friendly
  • Handmade with aloe, jojoba and sunflower, which smoothes fine lines and helps acne
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bb2-table__imagePeter Thomas Roth Anti-Aging Face Wash
  • Assists in brightening skin thanks to its botanical ingredients
  • Contains glycolic and salicylic acids that helps reduces fine lines
  • Improves the skin tone and texture
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bb2-table__imageJuice Beauty Stem Cellular 2-in-1 Cleanser
  • Formula rich in vitamins and antioxidants
  • Contains Malic acid which exfoliates the skin and promotes collagen growth
  • Prevent and repairs hyperpigmentation
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bb2-table__imageSkinMedica AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser
  • Strong exfoliation formula, packed with 4 exfoliating acids
  • Quickly improves the texture of skin
  • Jojoba assists in the moisturization and protection of the skin
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Before you buy: 5 things to consider when purchasing an anti-aging face wash

1. Removing build-up: Why not water?

The first vital step in protecting against damaging free radicals is to clear your skin of the day’s build-up of pollution and other contaminants.

Your skin is designed to be a barrier to the outside world so many free radicals simply sit on the surface of the skin when they first come into contact with it. It is only over time that these damaging chemicals then begin to seep further into your body.

Using a good quality face wash or cleanser will help mop up these surface free radicals along with dirt, grime, and dead skin cells.

2. Apply powerful antioxidants

Despite our best efforts, however, free radicals will literally get under our skin. At this point, no amount of scrubbing and washing will remove them.

What’s needed is a strong antioxidant which, will block harmful free radicals from damaging our DNA and skin. Vitamin C is a great example that has been proven time and time again to be effective in providing the powerful antioxidant protection we are looking for.

Not only will it defend against the negative effects of pollution, antioxidants like Vitamin C also mop up free radicals generated from other skin aging factors like UV radiation.[6]

This is why we suggest thinking of anti-aging through your daily routine. No single cream or serum can do all the work–by layering up your protection and defenses you give your skin the best chance of survival and protection.

3. Give yourself 24-hour protection

Many anti-aging routines pile on sun protection, moisturizing, and more in the morning with the evening reserved for soothing balms or serums.

While there is nothing wrong with this approach it means that you are missing out on giving your skin around-the-clock protection.

Yes, sun and pollution damage mainly occurs during the day, along with other sources of free radicals like diet and stress. But the generation and release of these damaging chemicals continue even as you sleep.[7]

It stands to reason that your evening routine should also contain antioxidants to carry on the anti-aging process. Our body goes into repair mode any time we are relaxed or asleep, by using antioxidants at night we support our natural repair mechanisms and can promote the production of even more antioxidants within ourselves.

4. Pick your antioxidants wisely

While any antioxidant is better than none, some sources are better utilized for specific purposes.

Our example of Vitamin C is a great place to start – backed by a ton of research it is known to be a strong antioxidant that combats the top causes of premature skin aging. There is also some evidence that Vitamin C can restore collagen production, giving your skin structure that boost of support to keep it looking youthful.

Vitamin C, along with Vitamins A and E also have anti-carcinogenic properties, which, while not ‘anti-aging’ is certainly something to think about in the context of our modern, polluted world. Note that Vitamin C is sometimes called ascorbic acid in the ingredients list.[8]

Speaking of Vitamin E, this antioxidant is essential for normal bodily function. When looking to repair skin blemishes, minor scars, and fine lines, this powerful vitamin is found in many specialist scar-reducing formulations.

Other antioxidant ingredients to look out for:

  • Niacinamide (Vitamin B3 / Nicotinamide)
  • Polyphenols (found in red wine and chocolate)
  • Flavonoids (found in green and black tea)
  • Resveratrol (found again in red wine, tea, berries, and peanuts)

5. It’s not just about antioxidants

This is where the quality of the face wash comes into play. While antioxidants are a key component there is a myriad of other factors to take into account.

When we think of anti-aging, people think of fine lines and skin that isn’t quite as firm as it used to be, rather than ‘internal aging’ on the molecular level. A good anti-aging cleanser will address these other issues rather than targeting one issue.

Cheap face washes can be harsh on the skin, trying to clean the skin effectively but stripping it of natural oils and unbalancing skin pH and hydration. Anti-aging cleansers will want to do the exact opposite–retaining moisture to give the skin and fresh appearance and smoothing out fine lines and wrinkles.

Finally, keep an eye out for cleansers that are calming to the skin. Our skin is exposed to the elements every day, from the cold to our clothes, and this over time leads to low-level irritation and damage.

As we know this in time this increased level of irritation means there is unseen inflammation damaging skin cells and tissue, prematurely aging the skin. Cleansers should be gentle to avoid adding to the problem, with the best anti-aging face washes actively supporting the skin’s repair and recovery.

The 4 best anti-aging face washes and cleansers

1. ZELEN Life Cleanser

ZELEN Life Cleanser Image

Best features:

  • Contains the powerful antioxidant Vitamin C
  • Moisturizes to smooth fine lines
  • Fights infection to keep inflammation to a minimum
  • Multiple calming agents

The best face wash/cleanser for:

Those looking for a powerful yet gentle anti-aging cleanser that can be used twice a day, even with sensitive or acne-prone skin.

Overview:

The ZELEN Life Cleanser contains all the essential components of an excellent anti-aging cleanser. Jojoba oil, known to bolster skin repair and fight wrinkles, contains all important antioxidant Vitamin C.

Natural Aloe Vera, Sunflower, and Jojoba work in tandem to remove pollution, oil, and other impurities which can damage skin and accelerate aging. The anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory action in Aloe Vera has long been used to aid the soothing of skin and promote a more healthy and youthful appearance.

Sunflower brings benefits through the day and night by locking in moisture, keeping fine lines at bay, and calming the skin with its antioxidant properties.

For those with sensitive or oily skin, it unclogs pores without removing natural oils needed to keep the skin soothed and hydrated and reduces skin sensitivity – impressive for a single natural ingredient and for preventing acne breakouts.

The good:

  • Multiple sources of antioxidants
  • Combats skin sensitivity
  • Doesn’t dry the skin
  • Balances oil (sebum) on the skin to control acne

Things to think about:

  • Those with skin conditions causing significant dead skin build up may want an acid exfoliator instead

Bottom line:

A fully natural cleanser that cleans and supports skin, providing a Vitamin C boost to combat the aging effects of free radicals we all experience. It’s gentle yet effective, allowing a wide range of skin types to benefit from it.

2. Peter Thomas Roth Anti-Aging Face Wash (Cleansing Gel)

Peter Thomas Roth Anti-Aging Face Wash (Cleansing Gel)

Best features:

  • Dual acid exfoliation
  • Supports collagen production
  • Botanical extracts to brighten skin

The best face wash/cleanser for:

Anyone who needs regular acid exfoliation to help with their anti-aging routine.

Overview:

This anti-aging wash is actually a cleansing gel that contains 2 exfoliating acids to help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. The powerful acid exfoliation means it isn’t suited to sensitive skin, but if you have dry, oily or combination skin then you should find this cleanser leaves you with a bright and fresh appearance.

The two exfoliators are glycolic and salicylic acid, which are useful for those with problem acne, removing excess oil and dead skin without being overly harsh. The company suggests using this ‘as often as needed’ but we would suggest starting with once daily in the first instance.

The rest of this cleansing gel is made up of botanical extracts which also give the gel a distinctive citrus scent. For those with sensitive or damaged skin, it is also worth noting that the gel contains fragrance/parfum which can sting or irritate.

The good:

  • Combining two exfoliators is an effective way to ensure a consistently fresh and youthful appearance
  • Loaded with natural fruit and botanical extracts
  • Improves skin texture and appearance

Things to think about:

  • Not for sensitive skin
  • Works well for acne but fragrance may sting broken skin
  • Dual acids increase sensitivity to sun exposure

Bottom line:

The Peter Thomas Roth Anti-Aging face wash is an effective tool for those with more stubborn skin complaints. We recommend looking at this wash as a short-term treatment over a few weeks rather than a long-term, daily face wash.

Note:

While it is labeled anti-aging, overuse of this product could lead to drying and underlying inflammation. Use it to refresh tired and stubborn dead skin build-up and stop when your skin looks better and is smooth to the touch. Then continue with a good antioxidant cleanser to repair the skin from within.

3. Juice Beauty Stem Cellular 2-in-1 Cleanser

Best features:

  • Contains Malic acid for extra skin support
  • Organic formula
  • Retains skin moisture

The best face wash/cleanser for:

Those with darker skin tones wanting an exfoliating cleanser that helps prevent and repair hyperpigmentation.

Overview:

This ‘2 in 1’ cleanser packs in a single acid exfoliator whilst also including the powerful antioxidant resveratrol. It contains glycerin and algae to lock in as much moisture as possible without suffocating the skin – leaving it supple and smooth with the addition of Vitamin E.

Of note is Juice Beauty’s organic status for all its ingredients. The company states that their chemists begin all their formulations with the same base of organic grape seed, aloe vera, and jojoba, before then adding citrus and other specific ingredients for each product in their line.

These compounds contain a great antioxidant mix of flavonoids, phenols; and provide powerful antioxidant activity to help promote fresh and youthful skin.

The good:

  • Full of antioxidants and vitamins
  • Malic acid acts as an exfoliator and collagen booster
  • Multiple extracts to help keep moisture in the skin

Things to think about:

  • Some users find the malic acid does not work with sensitive or allergenic skin

Bottom line:

The Juice Beauty 2 in 1 cleanser is a great addition to anti-aging routines for darker skin tones. By combining an acid and multiple antioxidants this cleanser can be used long term on a daily basis to combat outbreaks, clogged pores, and hyperpigmentation that results from inflammation and irritation.

4. SkinMedica AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser

SkinMedica AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser

Best features:

  • 4 acids for strong exfoliating action
  • Jojoba to calm and protect
  • Tightens pores

The best face wash/cleanser for:

Those with more resilient skin who are looking for the strongest exfoliator that won’t overly dry the skin.

Overview:

Not only does the SkinMedica exfoliating cleanser contain 4 exfoliating acids, but they have also dispersed their Jojoba extract to provide a mild physical exfoliator as well. This means you do need to be careful not to irritate your skin, but the results are well worth it for many.

Users report that it can be more effective at unclogging long-term problem pores and promotes the closure of larger pores as well. Despite the multiple acids, SkinMedica has managed to formulate a product that still retains moisture and leaves the skin feeling fresh but not overly tight.

The good:

  • A rare example of 4 acids working in tandem
  • Formulated to still be soothing to the skin
  • Improves skin texture quickly

Things to think about:

  • Makes skin sun-sensitive
  • Can produce a reaction in susceptible skin types

Bottom line:

The SkinMedica exfoliating cleanser is a good example of a balanced anti-aging cleanser and a sign of how far we have come. In recent years this formulation would have stripped away all-natural oils and hydration, but SkinMedica with clever use of Jojoba and other hydrating ingredients manages to keep the skin supple and soft.

Just don’t forget to moisturize and use sun protection when utilizing this cleanser.


How we chose these products

Finding the best anti-aging cleansers and face washes meant finding products that didn’t underdeliver, but also avoiding those that over-delivered too.

Anti-aging is all about taking gentle steps in the right direction – we looked at products that calmed, rejuvenated, and essentially distressed skin both inside and out, using natural ingredients of course. Only happy, soothed skin can begin to restore its youthful appearance.

Presented here are both exfoliating and antioxidant cleansers in different combinations, we’ve only included ones that place hydration and anti-aging as their top priority. Finding which is the right balance for you may take some experimentation.

A good rule of thumb is to remember that the acid exfoliators’ main function is the improvement of appearance first, with added benefits like collagen support coming in second. A good antioxidant on the other hand is much more useful in both the short and long term by protecting and reversing free radical damage and premature aging.

So, why use an anti-aging face wash or cleanser?

why use an anti-aging face wash or cleanser

This isn’t a case of throwing every anti-aging product you can find at your face and hoping you get the effect you want.

As mentioned in other articles, there are many internal and external stressors like skin dehydration and UV damage from the sun that must be protected against.[1]

To give your skin the best chance of recovery, repair, and defense against aging we need to look at other factors that aren’t addressed when looking at anti-aging creams and serums.

Environmental pollution, universally common around the world from car fumes and heavy industry, is the number two cause of skin aging, just behind the ever-present photoaging (sun damage).[2]

The particles in the air, that makeup pollution sticking to our skin over the course of the day, slowly seeping down through the skin layers, releasing damaging free radicals as they go.

But what is so damaging about free radicals?

Although an odd-sounding term, free radical is an umbrella term for molecules or chemicals that are missing an electron (negative charge). Like water running down a hill, free radicals will automatically bind to anything they can find that will give them the negative charge that is missing.[3]

A great everyday example of this is leaving out a cut apple or banana peel. Free radicals prompt oxidation, ie. dragging in oxygen from the surrounding environment. As we know, it doesn’t take very long for the apple or banana peel to brown and look inedible and unsightly.[4]

Fortunately, our skin is a living part of us and can combat free radicals from within. But our bodies can only do so much, and repeated exposure to free radicals eventually causes oxidative stress, both on the surface of the skin and deeper within.

Oxidative stress damages the DNA within our cells, harming the cells, the tissue they make up and accelerating both aging and the signs of aging.

So can we just avoid free radicals altogether?

Unfortunately not.

Free radicals are a natural part of our life – we need oxygen to live and oxygen inevitably means coming into contact with them. So complete avoidance is not possible with many healthy bodily functions producing them all the time

While we have evolved to cope with this fact, there is a tsunami of free radicals that we don’t need to be exposed to and should take steps to reduce where possible.

Some common sources of free radicals include:[5]

  • UV radiation
  • Pollution
  • Pesticides
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Recreational Drugs
  • Malnutrition (poor diet)

Luckily for us, this is where anti-aging cleansers and washes come into play.

Frequently asked questions

frequently asked questions

Why don’t your product selections include anti-aging ingredient X?

The function of cleansers in anti-aging is to combat external and internal stressors such as free radicals, dehydration, and irritation. While there are plenty of other anti-aging products described on the market, some of these require more time on the skin than a cleanser or wash provides.

Anti-aging cleansers of course form part of your anti-aging routine. They should be combined with other anti-aging products such as creams or masks. For a more detailed guide check out this article.

Can I use a foaming face wash?

We don’t recommend foaming cleansers in general except for a few exceptions on the market. We definitely don’t recommend them if you are looking for anti-aging solutions.

Why?

A lot of foaming cleansers (including more expensive ones) use drying detergents to generate the lather once out of the bottle. These will make your skin tight and overly dry after use which will only worsen any fine lines already present.

Antioxidant vs exfoliating anti-aging cleanser?

These are the two main types of anti-aging cleansers you are likely to come across. As detailed in our response to the first question above, cleansers with other anti-aging ingredients are unlikely to work effectively for the brief time they are in contact with your skin.

Antioxidant cleansers are great because they not only provide instant relief by ridding the skin of build-up but also work overtime to combat free radicals within the skin.

Exfoliating cleansers work differently, mainly by removing not only build-up but stubborn dead skin cells as well. Exfoliating cleansers aren’t physical scrubs, they use acids such as glycolic or salicylic acid.

As they’re washed away with the cleanser these exfoliating acids are still gentle to sensitive skin and work to keep dead skin build-up at bay.

Conclusion

We hope that this article clears up what can be a confusing array of options in the anti-aging skin care world. They form just one part of your anti-aging regimen but are an important step in providing extra layers of protection for your skin.

Remember not to forget the basics of skin care and aging: UV damage from the sun and the aggravating effects of pollution are the two biggest culprits by far. As a minimum, you should have some form of sun protection, followed up by a good quality antioxidant protecting your skin from within.

Be careful too when using acids to clear away blemishes and dead skin, they sensitize you to sun damage and could potentially undo all your hard anti-aging work if they are overused.

If you still have any questions or queries about which products you should be using be sure to leave a comment down below.

For more insight into the best additions to your skin care routine and subscriber-only access to our latest news–sign up to the ZELEN Life Newsletter today!


References

  1. Han A, Chien AL, Kang S. Photoaging. Dermatol Clin. 2014 Jul;32(3):291-9, vii. doi: 10.1016/j.det.2014.03.015. PMID: 24891052.
  2. Schikowski T, Hüls A. Air Pollution and Skin Aging. Curr Environ Health Rep. 2020 Mar;7(1):58-64. doi: 10.1007/s40572-020-00262-9. PMID: 31927691.
  3. Masaki H. Role of antioxidants in the skin: anti-aging effects. J Dermatol Sci. 2010 May;58(2):85-90. doi: 10.1016/j.jdermsci.2010.03.003. Epub 2010 Mar 17. PMID: 20399614.
  4. Ferrari CK, Percário S, Silva JC, da Silva Torres EA. An apple plus a Brazil nut a day keeps the doctors away: antioxidant capacity of foods and their health benefits. Curr Pharm Des. 2016;22(2):189-95. doi: 10.2174/1381612822666151117122715. PMID: 26572874.
  5. Pan B, Li H, Lang D, Xing B. Environmentally persistent free radicals: Occurrence, formation mechanisms and implications. Environ Pollut. 2019 May;248:320-331. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2019.02.032. Epub 2019 Feb 11. PMID: 30802746.
  6. Getoff N. Vitamin C: electron emission, free radicals and biological versatility. In Vivo. 2013 Sep-Oct;27(5):565-70. PMID: 23988889.
  7. Vaccaro A, Kaplan Dor Y, Nambara K, Pollina EA, Lin C, Greenberg ME, Rogulja D. Sleep Loss Can Cause Death through Accumulation of Reactive Oxygen Species in the Gut. Cell. 2020 Jun 11;181(6):1307-1328.e15. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2020.04.049. Epub 2020 Jun 4. PMID: 32502393.
  8. Milisav I, Ribarič S, Poljsak B. Antioxidant Vitamins and Ageing. Subcell Biochem. 2018;90:1-23. doi: 10.1007/978-981-13-2835-0_1. PMID: 30779004.

About The Author

Dr. Shane McKeown MBBS
Dr. Shane McKeown MBBS

Board-Certified Doctor and Educator

Dr. McKeown is a UK based NHS clinician with over 10 years experience in both hospital medicine and surgery. After an initial career in maxillofacial surgery his focus now lies in elderly care and rehabilitation medicine. A board member for Wadham College of Science, Dr. McKeown is passionate about widening access to both education and healthcare around the world and as a result, outside of his clinical work he spends much of his time either teaching or providing medical consultancy to healthcare startups. Commercially, his interests lie in helping research and promote novel, evidence-based medicines originating from natural sources and processes.

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