That Pesky Thing Called Puberty

You’re growing up. Lotsa changes going on, huh? Confusing, yeah. But no need to freak out about it. It’s known as puberty, and it’s totally normal. Here’s the lowdown on what to expect so you don’t get caught off guard.

Are your breasts beginning to bud? Cool! They’ll gradually get bigger and fuller, and they might even become a little sore. One breast could grow more than the other at first, but they’ll eventually even out. (Most women have one that’s slightly larger, but it’s usually not too noticeable.) How big or small your boobs become depends on genetics. So when are they fully developed? It usually takes two to three years!

Hairy Scary?
If you haven’t already, you’ll soon grow hair in the pubic area -- that part of your bod that extends from your lower tummy to between your legs. Initially, the hair is soft and there isn’t much of it. Later, it gets a little longer and usually becomes kinky and curly. Right around the time you get pubic hair, you’ll also sprout some under your armpits.

Ugh, Zits!
The pores in your skin produce more oil during puberty, especially on your face. This can cause pimples to pop up. If you have a problem with acne, gently wash your face with antibacterial soap several times a day. Hopefully, getting rid of the excess oil will zap your zits. If it’s severe and won’t clear up, see a dermatologist.

Periods. Period.
Before you start your period, you’ll probably notice yellow or white stains inside your underwear. This is natural moisture from the vagina. It’s perfectly normal and is a sign that menstruation will probably start in about six to 18 months. Although most girls get their first period between 11 and 14 years old, it can come as early as 8 or as late as 17. Since it’s pretty unpredictable, it’s a good idea to have some pads stashed away for when it does catch you by surprise.

Oh, No … B.O.
Your sweat glands become larger and more active as you get older, so you sweat more. And it doesn’t exactly smell so fresh. That means it’s time to pay particular attention to your hygiene. Be sure to wash under your arms when you shower, and by all means, get yourself a stick of deodorant or antiperspirant.

Bring. Zit. On!

Breakouts are awful on any random day, but when you have a big event? The worst. Whether you woke up with a cluster or just one giant shiner, there are easy ways to reduce redness and inflammation overnight! Here, a 24-hour plan to good skin.

Step One: Wash Your Face
Any type of blemish, whether a pimple or blackhead, is caused by a buildup of bacteria, oil and dirt. But "dirt" can be a combo of makeup, dead skin, oil from your hands, and yes, regular ol' grime. Gentle washing (not too rough! scrubbing further irritates already inflamed skin) with a personalized for-your-skin-type cleanser removes the dirt and much of the oil.

Step Two: Freeze the Puffiness
Zits are red and puffy because they're swollen. You can reduce the swelling like you would for anything else: with ice! Put an ice cube in a paper towel, twist the end, then hold the cube directly on an inflamed blemish. A few minutes should do the trick.

Step Three: Medicate and Moisturize
Dry your face and apply an oil-free, anti-acne moisturizer with a high concentrate of salicylic acid. It helps the skin shed quickly, which keeps pores from clogging and prevents more pimples. Put a bit of acne spot treatment cream containing 10 percent benzoyl peroxide on individual zits to inhibit the main acne-causing bacteria. Tie your hair up to keep pore-clogging oils, dirt and product away from your face.

Step Four: Have a Snack
We interrupt this highly scientific process to address a favorite subject: food! What have you been munching on lately? Some breakouts are a direct result of eating something that made your hormones go wacky or increased oil production on your pretty face. The solution? Cleanse from the inside out. This means drinking water all day (nix the sodas and coffee), noshing on healthful foods (fresh veggies, whole grains, no sugar or greasy foods) and getting a good night’s snooze to slow down hormone-affecting stress.

Step Five: Wake up, Sunshine!
When you get up in the morning, repeat the first three steps before putting on makeup to cover any spots. (Tip: Be sure to use cool -- not hot -- water when cleansing, to reduce redness.) Using a new cosmetics sponge, apply foundation that matches your skin tone, in a light patting motion. Dab a little concealer on individual zits, then touch up with a second pat of foundation. Lightly apply a little blush, mascara and lip gloss. Know what? You look fabulous!

5 Period Myths You Probably Believe

The thing about periods is that you never hear anyone say how much she adores her flow or how she looks forward to her cycle. Some of girls’ most common fears about menstruation are rooted in, well, stuff that just isn’t quite true about odor, activity levels, harsh PMS and more. Don’t know what to believe? We break it down for you right here:

Period Myth No. 1: Just before and during your period, you’ll always be bloated, cramping, sleepless and a serious B to everyone.

Symptoms of PMS (premenstrual syndrome) are not guaranteed. “Periods are so individual, and some girls hardly have any symptoms at all,” says Hannah Wright, a physician assistant in San Francisco. “Girls expect their periods are going to be extremely painful at some point, and that may never be your experience. If you do have super-heavy bleeding, big mood swings or painful cramping, see your medical provider. You do not have to live with PMS symptoms.”

Period Myth No. 2: Period blood is stinky and dirty, and if you don’t shower during your period people can smell you.

Menstrual blood has an odor, true -- but it’s not extreme and it’s not wafting from your nether regions to the guy standing next to you at the coffee shop. “Odor is part of being human,” Hannah assures us. “Your body has different smells, and some girls believe they have to clean out the vagina with feminine washes, especially after a period. This isn’t true. The vagina is a very clean environment that maintains itself with a delicate Ph balance that prevents yeast or bacteria from overgrowing.” Change your tampon or pad regularly, and shower daily as usual. There is one exception: If the odor becomes extreme, you may have an infection. Time to see your doctor.

Period Myth No. 3: If you go swimming you’ll bleed in the pool, and when school starts back up you should be able to sit out during gym since physical activity is bad.

Your period blood is mostly uterine lining gently shedding itself, so it’s not like you’ve got some massive amount of blood swishing around. Unless your tampon is full and your flow is extra heavy, you’re not going to bleed in the pool. You can swim on your period! “You don’t have to treat your period like you’re sick,” insists Hannah. “Exercise is often a great way to alleviate PMS symptoms. You should be able to have a normal, healthy lifestyle, and your period shouldn’t interrupt those activities.” Simply keep a stash of tampons in your tote bag or gym locker, and go do what you do!

Period Myth No. 4: You shouldn’t use tampons if you’re a virgin.

Some girls believe they need to be sexually active before they can insert a tampon. So not true! Virgins, you are tampon-approved, promise. “There are cultures or religions where they don’t use tampons until marriage because they believe nothing should be in the vagina before intercourse,” explains Hannah. “But using tampons has nothing to do with sexuality, and there is no medical reason why a girl shouldn’t use a tampon at any age or stage in her reproductive health. Tampons are especially important if you’re involved in sports or have a super-heavy flow and need the protection.”

Period Myth No. 5: If you use the wrong-size tampon, it will get stuck and you’ll get toxic shock syndrome.

Vaginas are all different, but they are not measured in slender, regular or super plus. “The size of the tampon is not about your vagina size,” says Hannah. “Tampon size should be selected depending on the heaviness of the blood flow. If a tampon is painful, you’re probably not inserting it correctly.” As for toxic shock? “I don’t know the statistics, but I’ve never seen a case -- very low. It is not possible for a tampon to get ‘lost’ in the body. We remove a lot of retained tampons -- some in a patient’s vagina for weeks -- and it’s the odor that brings the patient in. If you think you forgot [to remove] a tampon, don’t worry, but definitely see your medical provider.”

A Girl’s Guide to Summer Hygiene

You’re having massive breakouts? Embarrassing armpit stains? Not sure if the pool and your period are a good mix? Yeah, your feminine hygiene catches a whole new wave when summer rolls around. Here, we help you navigate those choppy waters.

Summer Hygiene Lesson No. 1: Bikini Line Dance
When it comes to that spot on your legs that peeks out from beneath your bathing suit, well...there’s often some hair there. And shaving that sensitive area can be tricky at first. Try these tips:

1. Get into a shallow bath or shower -- do not attempt to shave while dry!

2. Lather the area up with a good fragrance-free shaving gel.

3. Spread those legs, or prop one leg at a time up on a ledge, and gently shave along your bikini line with a new -- never dull! -- razor.

4. Rinse your body (and the razor) with water, and pat your parts dry with a clean towel.

Breaking out along the area where you shaved? Those are razor bumps, caused by shaven hairs curling back and growing into the skin. Stop shaving until they clear up. If they don’t go away within a week or so, talk to your doctor about treating the area with hydrocortisone cream.

Summer Hygiene Lesson No. 2: Sweaty Pit Stop
Naturally, there’s no part of us that’s sweatier in the summer than the armpits! Of course, be sure to wash yourself daily. To avoid those nasty T-shirt stains, use a good antiperspirant (not just a deodorant). Carry it with you in a backpack or purse so you can reapply often.

If excessive sweating continues to be a problem, try dusting a little cornstarch or baking soda under your arms in the morning after your antiperspirant has dried. (Tank tops are not recommended with this method.) If you’re not shaving yet, this might be a good time to ask your mom if you can start, since underarm hair can increase sweat and odor.

Summer Hygiene Lesson No. 3: Swimming ... Period
It’s the question that every girl asks at least once: “Can I swim when I’m on my period?” The answer is yes -- if you wear a tampon. You cannot get into the water with a pad or no protection, as you risk leaving a trail of blood in your wake. Ugh.

If you’ve never used tampons before, talk to your mom or other parental figure about it. If you decide tampons are right for you, lock yourself in the bathroom next time you’re having a period and follow the directions that come in the box until you’re comfortable with it. Then, grab your bathing suit, jump into the pool and make a splash!

5 Things to Do Before School’s Out

Believe it or not, the school year is already starting to wind down -- and you wanna go out with a bang. Take a few positive risks and they could set you up for one phenomenal summer vacation (and maybe an even better start to next fall).

Talk to Your Crush
You’ve been admiring the cutie in math class all year, and he’s seriously disrupted your ability to understand linear equations. Even if you’re ultra-shy around this guy, take tiny steps to make your presence known. This can be as simple as borrowing a pencil or asking him if he had any trouble with last night’s homework. If you can’t full-on break the ice, at least start chiseling away at it -- you’ll get there!

Salvage a Bad Grade
An awesome score on a final exam can really pull a grade up, so don’t head into finals with only a vague idea of the subject matter. Teachers are happy to give you guidance, so ask for help. It may mean putting in a little extra time in the morning before school starts or after the final bell rings, but that mark on your report card will be worth the effort.

Stand up to the Mean Girl
Don’t wage an all-out war on the gal who’s been making your life difficult, but it’s time to step up. Next time this girl makes a snide comment, look her directly in the eye and confidently flash a smile. This will let her know that you aren’t intimidated by her -- and you’ll feel stronger for taking solid-but-subtle action.

Ask an Embarrassing Question
Personal questions about your changing body may make you blush, but if you have some concerns about your period or anything else that seems a bit different, make an appointment with your school nurse and put it all out there. You’ll feel 10 times better once you have an intimate Q answered.

Make a New Friend
Invite a casual acquaintance from class to go to the mall or just hang out at your house one afternoon. You chat in between classes, so why not take your friendship outside of school? Adding a new pal to your crew could open up lots of possibilities for the summer break, and by the time school resumes in the fall, you two might be super tight!