Glycolic Acid Peels for Melasma

Glycolic acid is one of our favorite peels. Classified as a lunchtime peel, it has no downtime. This peel is ideal for treating age spots, sun damage as well as melasma pigmentation. Peel strengths are tailored for each client.


0 days


14-28 days

Treatment Time

10 minutes, 5 sessions required


SPF, moisturizers, pigment inhibitors

Treatment science score

The science of glycolic acid peels for melasma

  • Glycolic acid belong to the alpha hydroxy acid family of peels
  • This peel accelerates the turnover of skin cells
  • Glycolic acid peels can also potentiate the delivery of products into the skin
  • Faster turnover means healthy skin with less pigment
  • Melasma improves within 4 weeks of peeling
  • Glycolic peels have no downtime or recovery,unlike Cosmelan / Dermamelan peels

Glycolic acid peels are classed as superficial peels. They are best used to improve skin quality, including reduction of pigment as well as fine lines, surface irregularities & sun damage. A typical peeling program consists of 5 peels, conducted over 10-12 weeks.

What are glycolic acid peels?

Glycolic acid peels are classed as superficial AHA or alpha hydroxy acid peels. Other types of AHA peels include lactic & mandelic peels. These agents break the bonds between skin cells, which aid in cellular turnover, or chemical exfoliation. By turning over more skin cells, skin becomes brighter & healthier. The result is less pigmentation.

How does this peel work?

Glycolic acid peels work in 2 ways-

  • Chemical exfoliation of melasma pigmentation.
  • As a primer for delivery of skin care products such as arbutin, azelaic acid, retinol, ascorbic & tranexamic acids.

What is the recovery process?

This peel has a recovery time of 2- 5 days, depending on the concentration of the peel. Post peeling starts at 48 hours & lasts up to 5 days. During this time makeup can be used, however it does not sit well due to flaky skin. Redness resolves within a week post peel.

Peel type


Number required


Retinoic acid 2-5 days 5 **
Cosmelan 7 days 1 ***
AHA peels Nil 5 **

Is it the best peel for melasma?

Cosmelan & Dermamelan peels are the most effective peels for melasma with efficacy rates of up to 60%.

Less effective peels for melasma include glycolic, lactic, salicylic & retinoic acid peels. These groups of peels can improve melasma by about 30-50%. The optimal peel type depends on the depth of pigment, your skin type & allocated recovery time.

What results can I expect from a glycolic acid chemical peel?

This peel can reduce most types of pigment, however it does take 4-8 weeks before results are seen. You can expect-

  • Reduction of pigment (by up to 50% or more)
  • More even skin tone, lighter skin tone
  • Reduction in fine wrinkles, reduction of photo damage

A series of 5 sessions are recommended for best outcomes.

When do we use glycolic peels for melasma?

As with other peeling agents, glycolic (& lactic) acid peels are best used during the maintenance phase of melasma treatment, namely after a series of Picosure Pro laser sessions.

Peeling agents work by accelerating cellular turnover, in turn improving the luminosity & clarity of skin. They are useful to potentiate the delivery of skin care products such as retinoids, vitamins & pigment correctors.

How many sessions will I require to clear my melasma?

5 sessions, spaced 2 weeks apart. Glycolic acid peels work by gentle exfoliation of the skin’s surface, in turn clearing superficial pigmentation.

Results can be seen at the 4 week mark, maximal results are seen in 12 weeks.

What is the recovery process following glycolic acid peeling?

AHA peels such as lactic & glycolic acid are classed as lunchtime peels, meaning zero downtime. Makeup can be worn immediately after the peel. With higher concentrations, fine peeling may occur for 72 hours post peel.

What are the other skin benefits of glycolic acid peels?

Retinoids are powerful molecules in dermatology. Apart from pigment reduction, this peel can also give the following results-

  • Reduction of sun spots & sun damage including pre-cancerous solar keratosis
  • Reduction of fine lines & wrinkles
  • Reduction of enlarged pores, acne & blemishes
  • Increase in collagen levels
  • Decrease in photoaging

What is the treatment like?

Glycolic acid peels are in office peels & typically take less than 10 minutes to perform.

The solution is neutralized after 1-3 minutes.

What is the fastest & safest solution for melasma?

Picosecond lasers employ ultrashort pulses of light to safely shatter unwanted pigment without heating the skin. They provide the fastest & most effective way of improving skin quality, including clearing of melasma pigment.

As compared to chemical peels, Picosecond lasers have no downtime & are 20-25% more effective as compared to Cosmelan or Dermamelan peels & far more effective than glycolic acid peels.

How does Cosmelan peel compare with glycolic acid peels for melasma?

Cosmelan & Dermamelan peels are much more effective than glycolic peels for melasma as they address the primary cause of melasma. The downside of Cosmelan/Dermamelan is the extended recovery time of these agents.

Glycolic acid peels

Works in 30-50% of cases

No recovery

5 sessions required

Cosmelan Peels Works in 55% of cases 7 day recovery 1 peel session
Dermamelan Peels Works in 60% of melasma cases 8+ day recovery 1 peel session

What is the difference between glycolic, lactic & mandelic acid peels?

The activity of the peel depends on the molecular weight of the agent. Glycolic acid is the most powerful & reaches the lower dermis due to its smaller molecular weight. Mandelic acid peels are the least powerful as they have a large molecular weight, whilst lactic acid sits in between these agents.

What about salicylic acid and AHA peels?

We do employ salicylic acid peels & the results are very similar to lactic and glycolic acid peels for pigment reduction in melasma. Here is a summary of BHA or salicylic acid peeling agents-

  • 20-30% concentration used
  • Best for acne & PIH
  • Modest results for melasma
  • Rebound pigmentation more common than with lasers

The Melasma Clinic difference

Our specialist clinic is overseen by dermatologists who provide a comprehensive & bespoke approach to skin care. We take into account the complexity and individuality of your skin.

Dr Davin Lim

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Our pigment solutions include preventing future recurrences of melasma. Our ethos is to improve & maintain your skin’s health & vitality as an ongoing commitment to our patients.

More of our mostFrequently asked questions

What is the cost of glycolic acid peeling for melasma?

What aftercare is required post peels?

What skin care ingredients do we combine with glycolic peels?

Can all skin types & ethnicities be treated with glycolic acid peels?

What is the difference between glycolic acid serums & glycolic acid peels?

What are the side effects of glycolic acid peels?

Who performs the procedure?

How does glycolic acid peels compare with retinoic acid peeling for melasma?

Is it safe to perform DIY glycolic acid peels at home?

Davin’s tip on Glycolic acid peeling for melasma pigment

Dr Davin Lim | Dermatologist

Prior to pico lasers, this peeling agent was the one of the best we had for melasma. Combined with topical pigment correctors the response rate was in the order of 50 plus percent. Ideally we use a step up program of peeling, starting with 20% then increasing to 35, 50 then finally 70% glycolic acid.

Glycolic acid at higher concentrations is also useful as an anti-aging peel as it addresses sunspots or solar keratosis, fine lines, wrinkles, pigmentation & enlarged pores.

As for DIY glycolic acid or lactic acid? It can be done, but it is risky as if you miss the window for neutralization, burns & the resultant post inflammation are commonly seen. Paradoxically, TCA peels or salicylic acid peels are far safer, especially if TCA is kept at around 8% concentration as it does not require timely neutralization. For melasma patients, the ever present danger is to over cook any type of peeling agent, which frequently flares up pigment. Your skin, your call.