I’ve been working in the vape industry for 3 years now and there is one question I get asked from customers frequently, “What exactly are e-liquids made from?” The short answer is simple, there are only 4 ingredients, usually stated on the e-liquid labels: vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol, flavorings and nicotine (optional). Some of you may have heard of these ingredients before, but most of us will read these chemical names with raised eyebrows. So what does it all mean? Let me break it down for you.
Vegetable Glycerin (VG)
VG is usually the core ingredient in most e-liquids, usually making up 50% - 85% of the volume. It is an organic compound derived from plant oils and most commonly palm oil, however, it’s important to note that it is actually not an oil but in fact an alcohol, which makes it OK to vape. VG is non-toxic and commonly used in food products for thickening and moisture retention. The substance is clear, odourless and has a subtle sweet taste. Its favoured among vapers for its cloud producing qualities, the higher the VG content the denser the cloud. It is a thick and viscose liquid, which means e-liquids with high VG content, are not well suited to small vape pens or coils/atomizers with high resistance (ohms) with high ohms. It is however very smooth on inhale with little throat hit so high VG content is recommended for more powerful direct-to-lung mods.
Propylene glycol (PG)
The other base ingredient in e-liquids is propylene glycol. PG is thinner than VG and is required to deliver the flavourings in the vapour. It is a synthetic chemical compound that is also classed as an alcohol. Like VG, it is a clear, odourless liquid can also be found in food products as well as cosmetics and industrial products. It is an ingredient in some antifreeze which has led to a lot of misconceptions about its safety. PG is non-toxic and safe to ingest which is why it is used. The safety of PG has been studied for some time and is the main ingredient in asthma inhalers. Although Propylene glycol has been found to be safe to ingest and inhale, in some cases people can be sensitive to it and may experience irritations when inhaling. If this is the case make sure to use liquids with max VG.
Probably the more exciting aspect of vaping is the wide range of flavours available. The VG/PG base has no flavour on its own so food grade flavours are added. This been said, I wouldn’t go adding flavour additives from the supermarket to your vape mixture, some of these can have oils in them which is no good for vaping. Usually, when concerns about vaping are raised, it’s to do with these additives. For example, Diacytal, a chemical which can be found in some flavour additives is safe to ingest but not to inhale, most commonly known as the cause of Popcorn Lung. Luckily for us, pretty much all vape companies have made sure that no flavours with diacetyl are used in commercial e-liquids.
Most liquids have nicotine in them in varying levels, this is why it is a great substitute for smoking. Nicotine has a bad rap for its association with cigarettes but it might be somewhat comforting to know that on its own Nicotine is a relatively safe drug, It’s inhaling smoke from burning tobacco that has all the harmful carcinogens. The most harmful effect of nicotine is that it addicts people to cigarettes. Don't get me wrong, too much nicotine is not good for anyone. Too much nicotine can lead to headaches and nausea, so if you experience any of these while vaping it's probably time have a break from the vape or lower your nicotine levels.While there are still many more studies to be conducted regarding the long-term health effects of vaping, most world health organisations have concluded that vaping is less harmful than smoking cigarettes.