Chemotherapy Skin Side Effects: 10 Helpful Tips for Managing Hand and Foot Syndrome

Chemotherapy Skin Side Effects: 10 Helpful Tips for Managing Hand and Foot Syndrome

Posted by Theresa Keresztes on Jan 19th 2023

Top 10 Tips for Managing Chemotherapy Side Effects...A side effect of the chemotherapies listed below is a skin side effect known as hand foot syndrome (HFS) or Palmar-plantar Erthrodysesthesia.

The sensation is an unfortunate burning/tingling feeling in your feet and  hands that can cause a loss of dexterity and balance due to the discomfort.  Skin can crack, split, bleed, peel, blister, appear shiny and bright red and basically make life a bit difficult when opening cans and bottles, cooking, washing dishes, folding laundry - basic daily life - Oh My!  This unfortunate side effect is a sign however, that the chemotherapy is doing its' job as the drug attacks fast moving cells and toxicity leaking from capillaries building up in the hands and feet, where capillaries are very dense. 

People experiencing this side effect usually notice it within the first few weeks of treatment and should consult their Oncologist immediately for aids to comfort; for ex; soft and thick socks, shoes, skincare creams containing Urea and other measures to help maintain lifestyle.

Common chemotherapy drugs affecting feet

  • Anthracycline antibiotics
  • Cytarabine
  • Docetaxel
  • Capectabine (or 5-fluoroucil)
  • Doxorubicin


Below are the tips that the My Girls' Team has found to be helpful in managing HFS to continue the activities you enjoy.

Tip #1 - Protect Your Hands and Feet

  • Wear kitchen gloves or thin latex gloves (you can buy a box @ Sally Beauty stores) to help with opening jars and household chores such as washing dishes, cooking and cleaning.  A towel helps to open jars and handle heavy pots that are hot while cooking.
  • And when you can't stand the look of your nails anymore and have a special event to attend, stick on some fake nails and head out. IMPORTANT: Be sure to gently remove fake nails, cleanse and moisturize prior to your next skin check with your Oncologist.

Tip # 2 - Use Gentle Cleansers

  • Avoid harsh soaps and cleansers while bathing and cleaning.
  • Avoid mineral oil, turpentine and other solvents while painting or to cleanse hands after hobbies as they sting and irritate after use for quite some time!

Tip #3 - Epsom Salt Soak

  • Soak your tootsies and hands in a cool/cold water Epsom salt bath each evening for 10 minutes. Epsom salts are a natural anti-septic and will remove bacteria not visible to the naked eye. T
  • The skin will be cleaner than clean, loose and soft for you to apply healing moisture-rich barrier creams to absorb into the skin and help protect and heal the peeling, blistering or cracking.

Tip #4 - Cold Hands & Feet, Happy Heart & Mind

  • If you live in a cooler climate, embrace your cold morning floors by walking on them without slippers.
  • If you live in a warmer climate and enjoy AC, linger a little longer on a tile or stone floor.
  • As Florence Nightingale advised for good health, sleep with the window open and enjoy cooler sheets at the end of the bed where you can roll your feet about in icy glee and cool your hands under a unused pillow.

Tip #5 - Apply Barrier Creams with Urea Daily

  • In the morning and evening, apply a Urea-rich thick moisturizing barrier cream such as MARI-GOLD Barrier cream for hands and feet to help heal and protect red, irritated hands and feet.  Thanks to My Girls' skincare, feet remain uncracked and capable of walking and daily low-impact activities.

Week 4 - Start of Xelodo.

Week 16 - My Girls Barrier Cream applied twice daily.

Tip #6 - Hydrate

  • Drink water throughout the day to quench thirst and keep skin plumped and moisturized.

Tip #7 - Exercise

  • At the start of each chemo cycle, you may not be able to manage high-impact activities that invlove repettive pounding on your feet such as; running, walking or dancing.  Do not dismay!  There are many other activities you can enjoy to keep despair away.  For example, you can try something new such as swimming, yoga, cycling, etc. And..when your symptoms subside during your off-cycle, you can always try a light jog, if your feet are up to it, or a short walk to get you oustide and chase the blues away.

Tip #8 - Buy Soft and Thick Socks

  • Buy soft and thick socks and change daily after applying skincare creams formulated with Urea..

Tip #9 - Wear Hokas and OOfos Shoes!

  • Wear comfortable shoes such as Hokas and OOFos brands that are supportive and Ooooh sooooo comfy - they come in a variety of styles; sneakers, walking shoes, hiking boots, and flip flops.
  • Consider shoes that may be slipped on or velcroed to lessen pain tying laces.

Tip #10 - Lastly, but most importantly; Consult Your Oncologist for Immediate Help

  • Your Oncologist has seen it all and will help you find comfort.  Be sure to alert your Oncologist and Nurse immediately when skin side effects from cancer treatments occur.  In some cases, you may be able to switch from a 14-day cycle On/7 day cycle Off to a 7-day On//7-day Off cycle to mitigate the skin discomfort and maintain normal daily activities.