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.


Christine Raza said...

Thank you so much for this posting! My sister in law, Shin, has hand-foot syndrome and found a news article which led us to your blog. If you would like to read Shin's blog, you can find it at

Again, thank you so much for sharing this information with us!!!!

All the best to you, Christine

Khadija Dawn Carryl said...

Amazing information to share with others!! Thank you for that!

I wanted to add a few notes though. As for a non-metal spoon or utensil, actually it is okay to use stainless steel bowls and such. Plastic actually absorbs some of the henna and stain, as it is porous. I personally use a spatula (which is plastic but it's okay for me since I only use that specific tool for my henna stuff) and a stainless steel bowl.

Why do people say leave it over night? Well some henna powders need to sit out longer for dye release. If you want color then of course you could leave it out for up to 24 hours. This timing also depends on which henna powder are you using.

These are some of the timings:

Jamila- For use on hair 12 hours, for use for body art 24 hours

Yemeni and Indian henna- For use on hair 2-5 hours, for use as body art up to 12 hours

Moroccan henna-for use on hair 1-2 hours, and for body art up to 6-8 hours.

I hope this tid bit helps! :) and I really hope the henna helps

Jeanne Derner McBride said...

Thank you. I have been on Xeloda for over a year. last two months HFS gotten bad. Looking forward to trying henna and maybe getting a Segway; not ready for a Rascal yet...the Xeloda's working and don't want to decrease. Also looking forward to reading your books. Been hassling cancer six years. Intend to continue for several more.

Khadija Dawn Carryl said...

Hi Monique
I hope you've been well. The other ladies I wonder how they've been with their trial test of Jamila henna powder. I hope it worked better for them.

I finally got my article together for the blog. So I wanted to let you know I posted it. Please let me know your thoughts.

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