Here it is: a quick summary of everything you need to know to get started
using henna to relieve your Hand Foot Syndrome.


1/4 cup water
1/8 cup henna powder
A squirt of lemon juice

Bring the water to a boil, then turn off the heat. Add the henna slowly and stir until it is like cream of tomato soup. You will probably use about 1/8th of a cup. Add a squirt of lemon juice. Let it cool. (If you already have cracks, skip the lemon juice. It will sting.)

Cover a work area with plastic bags or an old towel (henna stains). Paint a thin layer on your bare feet and hands. I use a foam paint brush to apply it.

It takes up to 15 minutes to dry. You can rinse it off. Instead, I put socks on and leave it for my next shower.

I recommend this type of henna: “Jamali, most recent harvest.” You might find that at an Indian grocery store. Most people buy online or by phone. Here are two excellent sources.

BUY IT (Green Bay)
(920) 430-8826 (Toronto)
(905) 230-4651

Shipping takes longer from Toronto, but this henna maven is sending a free sample to HFS patients! Just send an E-mail to and tell them that you have HFS.

A few times a week, before your feet start to heat up and after.

If you get a burning feeling in your feet and hands from your chemotherapy, this will cool it. That often prevents blisters and cracking, but follow recommendations about cream and socks/gloves too, for the best possible result. Also, henna does not help with neuropathy.

This site is solely the opinion of Monique Doyle Spencer and is not medical advice. 2-5-09


Gloves, socks, gloves, socks!
You'll need help the first few times you do this. Do one foot or hand at a time!

First put bacitracin on any broken skin and put a small bandaid on it. Use Eucerin original, Balmex, or other super thick ointments. Apply a big glop of it in the morning and at night, keep the gloves and socks on. You'll feel much more comfortable.
I keep three sets of gloves: cheap cotton gloves from the drugstore or online; non-latex gloves for wet work; and dress cotton gloves. For dress cotton gloves, try Or go to for the same gloves from a manly man site.

On another cancer topic ...

"Call me if you need anything" - how many times have your heard that and said that? Here's an interview I did on this subject. I hope you find it helpful. Many thanks to my host, Margery Eagan, WTTK Boston. (Click on the words "On another cancer topic" for the link.)

Thanks to Ken George for the tech wizardry.

Winter tips

Henna is keeping my feet in perfect shape -- but my hands lose the henna quickly from everything you do with your hands. So in winter I'm combining henna with intensive moisturizing tips for my hands. Here's what I do at bedtime. 

1. I soak my hands for 15 minutes in a pot of warm water with very gentle moisturizing bath salts and oils. I don't soak every night, just do it as often as feels good for you.

2. I touch up any open spots with Neosporin and a bandaid for comfort.

3. I apply a thick layer of Balm-ex, so thick that you can't see any skin, and then put on gloves (and socks if you are treating your feet). I have a new favorite for socks -- Earth Therapeutic Moisturizing Foot Sock. You can find it widely online and in natural stores. Expect to pay between 6 and 9 dollars. I'll try their gloves now too.

Yes, Balm-ex is for diaper rash! 

Problem solving

With the help of Khadija at in Ontario, a few of us are trying to figure out why some hennas do not work on HFS and some do. Khadija is also recommending that we try leaving the lemon out of the formula - it's too drying. I'll try that this chemo cycle. If you have any experience, please let me know. In the meantime, I use Jamila henna, 2008 harvest. My HFS is now less than Grade 1 and I was well into Grade 3.

This site is for people looking for help with Xeloda side effects

If you take Xeloda chemotherapy for metastatic breast cancer or colon cancer, you may have Hand-Foot Syndrome. This rashy, blistery side effect comes in Grades 1 through 3. Grade 1 is the best -- you feel look like you need a pedicure right away, but you can walk. By the time you progress to Grade 3, walking is extremely painful.

A study in Turkey was done at a university hospital, noted below. It's worth reading. They noticed that a woman who had henna on her hands had no side effects, even though her feet were a mess. They applied the henna to ten other patients with great results. I'm not a New Ager, but I was a desperate, Grade 3 patient unable to walk. I would try anything, and to my astonishment the henna took all of the heat out of my feet.

I want to spread the word about this treatment. It's simple and cheap. By the way, I don't own any henna companies or websites of any kind. I'm a cancer patient trying to help anyone with this syndrome. If you have it, you understand why.

I hope you'll try it and that it will work for you!

Very sincerely,
Monique Doyle Spencer

************ NEW METHOD! *************

For everyone who has tried the six-hour henna treatment, you will love this! Instead of a weekly six-hour treatment, you can do a quick daily treatment. Everything about it is easier and it works!


Here are the Basics: Buy henna powder. Mix it with very hot water and a little lemon juice. Let it cool. Apply it where you have HFS. Let it dry. 


1. Buy pure henna powder
Buy pure henna powder. Don’t buy: henna for hair; anything called “Black” or “neutral” henna; tattoo henna; pastes or pens.

I bought mine online at, and at, but you might find it at a South Asian or Middle Eastern grocery store. I have trouble buying at the stores because I can't tell what's fresh and what's not. Pure henna is green, even though it is going to stain your feet a saffron or brown color. It should smell a little bit like green tea.

Henna comes from a tropical/arid shrub called “Lawsonia inermis.” Heat and acidity will release the “Lawsone” to work on your skin. I use Pakistani or Indian henna. My favorite is called Jamali. I don't like the gel consistency of Yemeni or Moroccan henna.

2. Mix it with boiling hot water and squeeze in a splash of fresh lemon juice. Let it cool.
Collect your supplies – a large garbage bag, a few plastic grocery bags, or old towels; a small non-metal bowl and non-metal spoon; lemon juice.

Put half a cup (120 ml) of very hot water, in a non-metal bowl. Add fresh lemon juice, a half teaspoon or so. Using a non-metal spoon, add the powder a little at a time.  Stir. Add powder until it coats the spoon but is still drippy -- like creamy tomato soup. Let it sit until it COOLS. Some people say overnight, I only wait until it cools. (Notes from the Experts: Let it sit for at least an hour ... I try to plan ahead, but it doesn't always work out. Some say non-metal doesn't really matter. Haven't tried.)

3. Apply the henna
I pick a place where I want to sit for fifteen minutes. Cover an ottoman/hassock/footstool with the old towel so you can hang your feet off of it to dry. (A recliner works really well for this.) Put a large garbage bag on the floor in front of the footstool to catch the drips. 

Paint your skin where it feels hot or hurts. You are just trying to dye your skin, not cover it with mud. I use a cheap foam paint brush. Let it dry -- it takes about 15 minutes at most.

I don't wash it off my feet, I just put my shoes on when the henna is really dry. I wash my hands gently.

Sometimes I do this every night -- anytime I can feel that my feet or hands are heating up.

4.  Comfort tip
When I have small areas of broken skin, I use a bandaid with an antibacterial ointment on it.

5.   Storing henna
If you buy a lot of henna at once, the experts say to store it in the freezer to keep it fresh. 

Once you mix the henna, you can keep a week's worth in the refrigerator in a jar with a top.

Safety note
Henna has been approved for use on hair by the FDA. It has not been approved for use on the skin. Do not eat it, make tea out of it, or use it for anything else. Be sure that you buy pure henna and not black henna or any henna with additives or dyes. Don’t have it applied at tattoo parlors, boardwalks, fairs, or anywhere unless you can control the source of the henna.

These are my personal notes and are not medical advice of any kind. Your experience and condition may be completely different. You have to tell your doctor when you have HFS.

“Topical henna for capecitabine induced hand-foot syndrome”
Idris Yucel and Gonullu Guzin, Department of Medical Oncology, Ondokuz Mayis University Medical School, Samsun, 55139, Turkey
SpringerLink Medicine and Business Media, September 2007

Monique Doyle Spencer July 15, 2008
Spencer is the author of The Courage Muscle: A Chicken’s Guide to Living With Breast Cancer. All proceeds from her book are donated to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center of Boston.

What kind of henna powder should I buy?

Does it make a difference? To my surprise, yes. Thanks to experience and, I've learned that I prefer Indian and Jamila henna powder. The Yemeni and Moroccan powders have a jelly quality that makes them harder to spread. You know how jam is easier to spread on bread than jelly is? Well, Indian and Jamila are like jam, Yemeni and Moroccan are like jelly. I like easy and I like jam! Thanks for the advice.

I'm finding that great henna artists are enthusiastic and curious about this new use of henna and they care a lot about the quality of the product.

Does Henna cure or prevent HFS?

I can only share my experience with you and can't be sure what will work for you.

Henna works best if you apply it as soon as your feet start feeling hot -- or even before! If your hands or feet are Grade 3, you have to let them heal. Henna will help, but you have to get off those feet. You may have to delay Xeloda or reduce the dose. 

I've tried quite a few things to help heal. Here's what works for me when it's really bad.

First, a ten day dose of tapered steroids. This is as unproven as henna, scientifically, but it helps me. Soaking my feet in cool water reduces the pain for the moment. On the worst areas, I apply an antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin or Bacitracin. (Those are the names in the US. If you let me know names in other countries I am happy to post them here.) I let it soak in, then apply Balmex -- a diaper rash cream loaded with zinc oxide -- or a band-aid. Then put a towel on your bed or recliner and get off your feet.

As your feet start to heal, henna can do its job best.

HFS is not peripheral neuropathy

If you have neuropathy from chemotherapy, that's a very different problem from HFS. Henna won't help. (I tried!)

Should I still use creams?
Roche recommends that you use a cream or lotion on the affected areas during the day and an ointment at night. Their lotion list includes Aveeno and Lubriderm. At bedtime you put on a really thick ointment like Vaseline or Aquaphor or Bag Balm or Eucerin's heavy duty cream, and then you put socks on for the night.

Some people feel that this works. For me, it helps my skin to be in good shape, which has got to be a good thing. I've done it for years during the winter in cold climates and in the summer in hot climates. 

Thanks to husband Michael

Michael is the one who kept scouring the web for ideas to help me with HFS. I thought the henna thing sounded stupid but he hounded me until I tried it. And when I could walk two days later ... he didn't gloat. 

He's the perfect guy, isn't he?


Mix it with hot water and squeeze in a splash of fresh lemon juice. Let it cool.
Collect your supplies – a large garbage bag, a few plastic grocery bags, or old towels; a small non-metal bowl and non-metal spoon; a lemon.

Put half a cup (120 ml) of very hot water, even boiling, in a non-metal bowl. Add fresh lemon juice, a half teaspoon or so. Using a non-metal spoon, add the powder a little at a time. You’ll probably be using about a quarter of a cup (60 g) to a half cup (120 g). Stir. Thicken until it is about the thickness of toothpaste, pudding or frosting – no drippiness. Let it sit until it COOLS. Some people say overnight, I only wait until it cools. (Notes from the Experts: Let it sit for at least an hour ... I try to plan ahead, but it doesn't always work out. Some say non-metal doesn't really matter. Haven't tried.)

You don't have to be exact with the amounts. I like it thick so it doesn't drip, but it takes longer to dry. After you've done this a few times, a quarter of a cup (60 g) will probably do your hands and feet once.

Apply the henna
I pick a place where I want to sit for an hour and cover an ottoman/hassock/footstool with the large garbage bag.

Apply to the skin with a non-metal tool like the back of a plastic spoon, a paintbrush or a long-handled wooden spoon. (It’s easier for someone else to do it for you.) Apply until the area is thickly covered, like frosting a cake or plastering a wall.

Leave on for 5 - 6 hours. It’s messy. I let it dry, then I use the plastic grocery bags on my feet to walk around (carefully, because it is slippery.). Some people bandage the hennaed area, which I have not tried.

To get the six hours, I put an old towel on the bed and leave my foot out from the covers for the night. (I use my henna booties, below.) You will get crumbs of dried henna on the bed but if it’s dry when you go to bed, it won’t stain. I wasn’t harmed by leaving it on if I slept longer than six hours. The dog did not lick it off.

Note for Hands
I do one hand at a time, allowing a day in between for convenience. For nighttime use, try letting it dry and then wearing loose, light mittens or bandaging. Don’t wear rubber gloves or anything that will heat up your hands when you are taking Xeloda.

Remove it
In the morning I shower it off in lukewarm water using a washcloth, because it really sticks to your skin. Remove it gently. (Experts tip: before you get in the shower, flick the dried henna off with a credit card edge.)

The area you treated should now be orange or brown. It will slowly fade. Reapply in a week. If it comes off in a chlorine pool or hot tub you should reapply sooner.

What to wear to use henna overnight?
I don't sew. If you do you'll be able to make a really nice version of this.

My Henna Stocking
I buy a yard of soft cotton flannel. I cut four boot shapes out of them, so that they will be very, very roomy and go up to my shins. Then I hot glue each pair together. These are very comfortable but will fall off in the night, so I cut two long strips of the flannel, maybe 2 inches wide, and I wrap them around the boot top and tie a bow.

Don't put these on until the henna is dry to the touch or it will soak through. These are designed to keep the flakes of henna mud contained instead of all over your sheets.

Why not sleep with the plastic grocery bags tied on? I get too hot, and hot feet foster HFS.