Your body will begin to change on the outside. At the start, you may experience a growth spurt, which means you grow taller in a short period of time.
During puberty, your breasts become bigger, as do your buttocks. Hair begins to grow under your arms and between your legs. Also, you may get spots or acne. All these changes are normal. The changes are triggered by hormones, diet, and hereditary factors including your ethnic background.
In general, puberty ends by the age of 17 or 18, by then your body has matured into an adult body.
Changes on the outside
Skin and spots
Hormones might make your skin produce more oil, known as sebum, that can block skin pores and hair follicles. In many girls this causes bumps or spots on your skin, also known as acne.
If you get spots, use a skin cleanser to make your skin less greasy. Don’t use ordinary soap – it can dry your skin out. It will then make even more grease so you get even more spots.
Breasts start to develop and hair starts to grow
In most girls, breasts start growing first, followed by pubic hair, and hair in the armpits. Don’ t worry if you start growing hair before breasts. This is also normal.
During puberty, your breasts start growing. It can start when you’re as young as eight, but might not begin until you’re thirteen.
You may notice that the inner lips around the entrance of your vagina, called the inner labia (labia minora), start to grow. They can grow larger than the outer lips, known as the outer labia (labia majora). And your hips, buttocks and thighs become rounder.
During puberty, hair grows on your outer labia – it’s soft at first but later it grows coarser. The colour of your outer labia may change and become slightly darker than the skin on your upper thighs. You may notice that your inner labia are larger than the outer labia.
Your inner lips may be smooth or wrinkly, thick or thin, shorter on one side than the other, darker along the edges. The inner labia can come in different colours, such as pink, brown, purplish, black, or two tones. All these differences are OK.
Around the age of 12, many girls have a growth spurt – in other words, they suddenly start growing more quickly. This happens in girls earlier than it does in boys. Often you get your first period after a growth spurt.
During puberty, you’re likely to sweat more, especially under your arms. This means you might smell more because of the sweat. It’s perfectly normal and is caused by changes in your hormone levels. Just wash every day and wear clean clothes. If you like you can also use deodorant or antiperspirant. Other alternatives are talc powder (don’t use it on your vagina or breathe it in – it’s poisonous), body spray or perfume. If you can’t get a shower, you could use baby wipes to wipe under your arms and between your legs.
Changes on the inside
At some time between the ages of nine and sixteen, your periods start. For most girls this happens around the age of 12.
Laughing or crying
During puberty, you can feel really happy one moment and gloomy the next. You start thinking more about everything – about yourself and about the world.
Because your body is changing a lot, you can feel insecure. Do I look nice? Do other people like me? You have to get used to your new body. Puberty can be pretty lonely because you can think you must be the only person who feels the way you do – but don’t worry, you’re not alone, it’s all part of it!
Do you look and feel different?
No two girls are the same. That means that some girls start their periods earlier than others. And no two girls’ bodies are the same. You might be taller than your friends or have smaller breasts – it’s nothing to worry about.
During puberty, you often start fantasising more about a particular person you really like. This might be a boy, but it could also be a girl. You really want this person to like you. You then get a strange, excited feeling inside you and when you see the person you might feel really nervous.
Thinking about sex
During puberty, you become curious about everything to do with sex. You think about it more often and you can get a feeling of excitement or arousal in your body. Many girls like reading about it, looking at pictures and talking about it with friends.
How do I know if I've started puberty?
- 80-85 per cent of people first notice their breasts are starting to develop.
- 15-20 per cent of people first notice their pubic hair is starting to grow
Starting your periods
Your periods can start anytime between the ages of nine and 16. When this happens, it shows you’re in the final stages of puberty – becoming physically and sexually mature.
At first, your periods may be irregular. They may not come every month (roughly 28 days), but more often (every three weeks) or less often (every six weeks). Don’t worry – this is normal. It can take up to three years for a woman’s period to become regular.
Remember that every woman’s menstrual cycle is different. To figure out how your own cycle works, jot down the first and last days of your period on a calendar for a few months.
Can I get pregnant if I’ve never had a period?
Yes. Since a girl or woman releases an egg 12–16 days before her period starts, it’s possible for you to get pregnant the first time you ovulate, before you’ve had your first period.
What if your periods haven't started by the time you're 16? There could be many reasons why your periods are delayed. It could be because of diet, stress, exercise, or pregnancy. The best thing to do is contact your nearest health care professional to make sure everything is okay.