The Independent Pharmacy

Duac Gel Acne Treatment Side Effects: What To Expect and How To Stay Safe

Andy Boysan
Andy BoysanBPharmDirector & Superintendent Pharmacist

Reviewed on 6 Apr 2023

Eager to start using Duac gel to treat your acne? Ideally, you’ve already read through the basic information you need to know, and you’re confident that it’s the best treatment for your particular case. Every treatment has its side effects, though — and you need to know what they are so you can make your course of treatment as safe and effective as possible.

Duac Gel (3% & 5%)
Duac Gel (3% & 5%)
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In this article, we’ll go through the most common side effects of Duac gel, make clear what’s normal so you know what to expect, explain what can go wrong in rare circumstances, and give you some additional information about how to safely treat your acne.

What to expect when you start using Duac gel

The first thing you need to know about beginning a course of treatment with Duac gel is that you may see some side effects, to begin with. As your skin gets used to the gel over the first two or three weeks, you may notice some redness and dryness.

Additionally, Duac gel has been known to bleach hair, as well as making treated skin temporarily more sensitive to sunlight (well, UV light in general) — making it more likely to burn. It's important to use sunscreen on the treated areas if you are going out in direct sunlight.

These typical side effects are unfortunate but are usually no great cause for concern. Whichever way you approach it, the important thing is that you continue the treatment — you should only stop if the effects get much worse, or stick with you past the first few weeks. You can reduce the frequency of using Duac to every other day, to begin with, whilst your skin gets used to the treatment. You can read more about this treatment in our main Duac gel guide.

What are the most common Duac gel side effects?

Before we get into more detail, let’s quickly run through the most common side effects:

  • Red, dry, peeling skin in the treated area
  • A burning sensation in the treated area
  • Sensitivity in the treated area
  • A mild-to-moderate headache

The most common side effects are limited to the treated area and affect at least 1 in 10 users. That said, it isn’t uncommon for a user of Duac gel to develop a headache. It isn’t clear why this is the case, and to an extent, it may be coincidental — even so, be aware that it can happen.

What are the more serious side effects?

Rather less frequently (fewer than 1 in 100 times), these side effects can appear:

  • Tingling in the treated area
  • Severely red and itchy skin in the treated area
  • A rash (or rashes) within the treated area
  • Worsened acne

There are more side effects linked to Duac gel, though the data isn’t available to indicate the frequency. Essentially, that makes them very uncommon, though still worth noting:

  • An allergic reaction to the treatment
  • Intestinal inflammation
  • Stomach pain (possibly with diarrhoea)
  • Skin discolouration in the treated area

If you experience any of the above serious side effects you should stop using Duac gel and speak to your doctor.

How likely are you to experience a side effect?

The most common side effects listed above affect at least 1 in every 10 users of Duac gel, which is a fairly high rate of occurrence relative to others, but still not that high overall. You’re far more likely to have no notable side effects at all. Overall, Duac gel is both effective and safe.

How to deal with Duac gel side effects

If you experience any of the most common side effects, you’ll likely just need to wait — any resulting redness, dryness and sensitivity will generally go away after a while. If you can endure the discomfort (frustrating as it may be), it should stop bothering you within a few weeks.

Alternatively, you can suspend treatment for a day or so to help your skin recover a little, or use some oil-free moisturiser to offset the effects. You can also keep the treated skin out of the sun, and shave areas of skin before you treat them to avoid bleaching too much of your hair (ensure you let your skin settle after shaving before you apply Duac).

Note: if you experience any of the rarer side effects or a particularly severe case of one of the more common side effects, it’s vital that you consult a medical professional quickly. Continuing with treatment that’s producing significant adverse effects will only end up doing more harm.

Is Duac gel always worth using?

If you’re suffering from mild to moderate acne and you don’t have a compelling reason why Duac gel wouldn’t work for you, it’s a great choice. It’s potent, takes effect quickly, and creates minimal inconvenience. It’s also worth using even when your acne has improved significantly because acne can return after treatment has stopped.

If you’re unsure about it, be sure to check out some reviews. Head to our dedicated Duac gel reviews page to see what our customers have said about their experiences with this treatment.

When you shouldn’t use Duac gel

Duac gel is only recommended for use by people older than 12, so it isn’t suitable for use treating children. If you're under 18 years of age, you would need to see your GP for acne treatment - you wouldn't be able to get it online. If you’re allergic to any of the listed ingredients, you obviously shouldn’t attempt to get a prescription for it.

If the area of skin you intend to treat is significantly damaged (broken or sunburned, most notably), do not apply Duac gel to it. Because it has an exfoliating effect, it shouldn’t be applied to areas of thin skin.

If you have a history of gut problems, or you’re using other acne treatments with comparable ingredients, consult a medical professional and fully disclose your situation so they can confirm whether you can safely proceed.

If you’ve been using Duac gel daily for 4 - 8 weeks and it doesn’t seem to be helping your acne, you should consider a different treatment. You can speak to your GP or our online medical team for further advice on other acne treatments if you find Duac isn't right for you.

Alternatives to using Duac gel

There are various other topical treatments prescribed to treat mild to moderate acne (such as Differin or Treclin), and any of them could be viable if you’re unable (or unwilling) to use Duac gel. You can view many of them on our main acne treatment page.

Differin 0.1% Cream/Gel
Differin 0.1% Cream/Gel
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If you are suffering from moderate to severe acne, it might be worth speaking to your doctor about alternative forms of treatment like Tetralysal. Click through to find out more about Tetralysal uses.


Duac gel can produce a range of side effects — the rarest are quite serious, but the most common are fairly mild (and none of them are any more common than around 1 in 10 users).

There’s an adjustment period when you start using it, during which your skin will likely dry up and redden somewhat, but it’s no cause for concern. It should eventually clear up.

There are circumstances in which you shouldn’t use Duac gel — you’re younger than 12, your skin reacts to it, it doesn’t seem to work for you, or you’re already using similar medicine — but it’s mostly a safe and reliable option. There’s a great chance that it will work for you.


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