Scarves and bandanas for cancer treatment

Step-by-step guide on how to tie a head scarf or a bandana if you choose to wear them.

Wearing a scarf or bandana

Scarves and bandanas are options for people who have hair loss. They are available in different colours and materials. Scarves are light and easy to wear. The best fabrics are cotton, lightweight wool, or blends. Slippery fabrics such as satin may slide off the head easily, but tying them over a hat such as a beanie can help hold them in place.

African and Caribbean headwraps may be made of a thicker cotton fabric. You can find these from specialist shops online.

How to tie a headscarf

For a basic style, you will need a scarf at least 75 by 75cm (29.5 by 29.5in) in size. For more elaborate styles, it needs to be 100 by 100cm (39 by 39in).


Follow the steps below to tie a basic headwrap.

1. Lay a square scarf flat, with the reverse side facing upwards. Fold the scarf diagonally into a triangle.

Image of a square scarf folded in half into a triangle. 

2. Put the scarf on your head with the folded edge about 2.5cm (1in) below your natural hairline, with the triangle point at the back.


3. Tie the ends into a double knot behind your head and over the triangle point. The flap should be underneath the knot.

If you are doing more than the basic headwrap, you may only need a single knot.

4. Gently pull the triangle point downwards, so the scarf fits closely to your head.

For different styles, you can try the following:

  • Leave the ends of the scarf hanging loose, particularly if it is sunny or you are going to wear a hat on top.
  • Tie the ends of the scarf in a bow instead of a knot. Or pull all 3 ends into an elasticated ponytail band to make a bow. This can also look nice under a hat.
  • Twist the 3 ends together to look like a rope and wrap them tightly around the knot like a bun. Secure the loose ends by tucking them through the centre of the bun.
  • For a different twist, pull all 3 ends together and tuck them securely over and under the knot.
  • Twist each of the long ends separately. Bring them forward and tie them at the front of your head. Continue twisting and tucking the ends in around your head. At the back, twist the triangle end and tuck it in. You can vary this by twisting in coloured cord, beads or a contrasting scarf to match what you are wearing. You may find it helps to twist 1 end at a time. Secure each end with a hair grip, paperclip or elastic band while you twist the other one.

In the video below, Nicky from Suburban Turban gives Amanda a tutorial on the different headwear options and styles available.

You can also find lots of different ways of tying a headscarf online.

How to tie a bandana

For a simple bandana, you will need a bandana at least 56 by 56cm (22 by 22in). Some people prefer a larger size.

1. Lay your bandana flat, with the reverse side facing upwards. Fold the scarf diagonally into a triangle.

2. Put the bandana on your head with the folded edge about 2.5cm (1in) above your normal brow line and the sides of the bandana above your ears. The triangle point will be at the back.

3. Tie the ends of the bandana behind your head twice so it does not come undone.

4. Tuck the triangle point under the knot so it does not stick out.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our cancer pain information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at

    Cancer Hair Care website: (accessed June 2022).

    Dilawari A, Gallagher C, Alintah P, et al. Does scalp cooling have the same efficacy in Black patients receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer? Oncologist, 2021; Volume 26(4):292-e548. Available from www.doi:10.1002/onco.13690 (accessed June 2022).

    Kinoshita T, Nakayama T, Fukuma E, et al. Efficacy of scalp cooling in preventing and recovering from chemotherapy-induced alopecia in breast cancer patients: The HOPE Study. Front Oncol, 2019; 9:733. Available from www.doi:10.3389/fonc.2019.00733 (accessed Oct 2022).

    Sung-chan Gwark, Sei Hyun Ahn, Woo Chul Noh, et al. Similar negative emotional impact on hair loss in neoadjuvant endocrine therapy compared to neoadjuvant chemotherapy in young women with breast cancer from patient reported outcomes. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2020; 38:15 suppl, e19242-e19242. Available from (accessed June 2022).

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

  • use plain English
  • explain medical words
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We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 December 2022
Next review: 01 December 2026
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.