Puberty kind of sneaks up on you. Maybe it starts with the hair, or you begin to feel like maybe you need a bra. It’s just the beginning of a rollercoaster of big (and totally normal) changes in your body. While everyone goes through it, the signs of puberty you experience may be different or happen earlier and later than people you know. Because, like basically everything else in life, you’ll go through puberty at your own pace. Here’s what you need to know about puberty for girls.
What is Puberty?
Puberty is a stage of development in your body from kid to adult. Simply put: You’re growing. Female puberty happens when your body starts producing hormones that wake up your ovaries. Your ovaries then start pumping out estrogen, which preps your body to start periods and eventually get pregnant in the future. It’ll usually happen at some point between the ages of 9 and 13.
Just an FYI: In addition to all the physical changes that happen, puberty in girls can also affect your emotions — maybe you feel moodier than usual or get upset over something that wouldn’t normally bother you. That’s the work of your hormones and your growing brain — and again, it’s perfectly normal. Trust us: It’s a confusing time, even if you do know what to expect.
What Are the Signs of Puberty in Girls?
Two words: Growth spurt! One of the major signs of puberty is that you’re literally growing, and at a way faster rate than you did during childhood. We’re talking a lot of body changes. Your hands and feet will start to get bigger — get ready to go up a shoe size. Then your arms and leg bones will grow so you’re taller, too, and your body shape may change, particularly in your hips. It might feel kind of awkward and weird to be in this new, stretched-out body, but it’ll eventually be more proportional, and you’ll go back to feeling like yourself again — we promise.
Let’s talk boobs. At first, you might feel little breast buds or swelling under your nipples. After that, your breasts will slowly grow bigger and look fuller. (They might also feel tender, which is completely normal.) It can take three to five years for breasts to finish developing. But at a certain point, you might want to wear a bra for support, especially if you play sports or exercise — or just feel more comfortable with one. It’s your call. Also? Breasts come in all shapes and sizes, and how big yours get ultimately depends on your genetics and body type.
You’re going to start growing hair…and not just on your head. One of the most obvious stages of puberty is new hair growing in different places. First up: pubic hair. Pubic hair is often curly hair that grows in your pubic area, a.k.a. the area between your hipline and your vulva. At first, it’s pretty soft and sparse, but as you go through puberty, it’ll grow longer and get curly and coarse. In two or three years, it’ll cover the entire pubic area and may even grow on your upper thighs and toward your belly button. You may also notice hair growing under your arms, on your legs, around your nipples, and even a little on your upper lip (yes, even with female puberty, depending on your genes). You can also decide what to do with it. Shave? Wax? Absolutely nothing? It’s 100% up to you.
Body Sweat and Odor
Do you smell…um, different? That’s probably B.O. One of the common stages of puberty is when sweat glands get larger and also more active — a double whammy that causes you to sweat more overall. This delightful combo of sweat and bacteria under your arms and in your pubic area creates body odor. We’ve got good news, though: You can use soap and water, then an antiperspirant to reduce sweating (or a deodorant to mask the scent of the odor).
Skin and Hair Changes
Possibly the worst part of puberty: Breakouts. Thanks to all those new hormones bouncing around your body, your skin produces more oil, particularly on your face. That oil can mix with bacteria and dead skin cells, clogging your pores and leading to acne. The same goes for the scalp, which can also produce more oil and make your hair greasy. Establish a good skincare routine, such as washing with a gentle cleanser, exfoliating regularly, moisturizing every night, and using an acne-fighting treatment if you happen to get breakouts. Look for ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, both of which are OGs for fighting acne. And wash your hair regularly — or swap in dry shampoo — to deal with all that extra oil at the roots.
Along with pubic hair, your entire vaginal area gets bigger during puberty, too. The vulva, a.k.a. the parts that are external, are enclosed by two sets of "lips." The larger lips have hair, whereas the inner, smaller lips don't. (We don’t recommend trying to remove any hair around here, as you could potentially cut yourself and invite an infection — literally no one wants this.) During puberty, these increase in size and may be uneven – all normal. Stuff happens inside your body, too: Your vagina is growing longer, while your uterus gets bigger.
Weird stains in your underwear? NBD — that’s just vaginal discharge. Discharge is a clear or cloudy fluid that your body produces to moisten and cleanse the vagina. It usually shows up right after puberty starts; you'll probably notice yellow or white stains inside your underwear. It's perfectly normal. However, your vaginal discharge may become white, clumpy, or resemble cottage cheese — or it might smell different or cause itchiness. In this case, you might have a yeast infection. If you notice that, make an appointment with your doctor to get to the bottom of it.
All of these changes lead up to the start of your first period — think of them as the body’s way of prepping itself for menstruation. So, some pointers: When you get your first period, it may not arrive at the same time every month. Actually, in the first year or two of getting your period, it might be wildly unpredictable and irregular (which is normal, and usually no reason to worry). After that, your cycle will get into a groove and you’ll be better able to track your period. That way, you’ll know when you can expect it — and when to stash a few tampons or pads in your bag, just in case.
Every person develops differently and at their own pace, so don’t be worried or get freaked out. And while you might experience some of these physical changes, they won’t happen in any particular order or look the same for everyone. Remember, there’s no wrong way to go through puberty. So, however it happens, you’re all good — and on your way to becoming an adult.