E-liquid, e-juice, juice, nicotine liquid, "nic liq" - whatever it's called, let's talk about one of the main components of any e-cig setup that tends to confuse new vapers.
What is e-liquid?
"E-liquid" is the liquid solution that is vaporised and inhaled with the e-cigarette. It is a suspension of solvents, flavouring and often nicotine.
The e-liquid is either:
- Absorbed into the filler material in cartomisers at the time of manufacture,
Decanted into the tank of a clearomizer or rebuildable tank atomizer, or
- Dripped directly onto the coil of a rebuildable dripping atomizer.
E-cigarettes work by heating the coil of your atomizer and atomizing the e-liquid, which is what you inhale. This is what allows you to get a nicotine fix without inhaling tobacco leaf combustion products.
What are the ingredients of e-liquid?
There are generally only four main ingredients:
Propylene Glycol and
Vegetable Glycerin (mixture of PG and VG making up >95%),
Food flavourings (~5%), and
Therapeutic nicotine (<1%).
Propylene Glycol (PG)
Scary name, but it's not scary stuff!
Propylene Glycol is a colourless and odourless liquid at room temperature. It is hygroscopic, meaning it has the ability to attract and trap water molecules. It is also used as a non-toxic and environmentally-friendly antifreeze.
Apart from in e-cigarettes, Propylene Glycol is used in the manufacturing of polyester by mixing with chemicals it reacts with. It is also used as a food additive - number E1520 - as a humectant, solvent and preservative. Propylene Glycol is also used in tobacco cigarettes to help them retain moisture. Lastly it is used in medical applications for medicines that are either inhaled, ingested or injected intravenously.
Long term studies show no irritant potential to humans, however some people may be sensitive to Propylene Glycol and experience an irritation of the eyes or airways which typically goes away as soon as exposure is stopped.
In e-cigarettes, it is used primarily to imitate the "throat hit" of tobacco cigarettes.
Vegetable Glycerin (VG)
Better known just as "Glycerine" in Australia, Vegetable Glycerin is widely used in food and pharmaceutical applications.
It is also a colourless and odourless hygroscopic liquid that has a chemical structure similar to fat. It is non-toxic, very sweet tasting and very viscous (thick and sticky).
Apart from in e-cigarettes, Vegetable Glycerin is used in most of the stuff you consume on a daily basis - it is food additive E422 and is used in low-fat snack foods, cake icing, liqueurs, as a sweetener, as a preservative and as a humectant. It is also used in moisturising skin care products, sensitive skin care products, cough syrup, toothpaste, mouthwash, shaving cream, shampoo and personal lubricants. It's basically everywhere in the supermarket - you can even buy bottles of pure VG itself.
It is completely non-toxic and naturally occurs in soybeans, palm trees and animal fats.
In e-cigarettes, it is used primarily to produce the "clouds" reminiscent of tobacco smoke.
E-liquids get their flavour from commercially available food flavourings, which is why there are literally thousands of different e-liquid flavours. Manufacturers of e-liquid will generally experiment for great lengths of time in order to get the perfect flavouring mix.
The nicotine in e-liquid is derived from tobacco and refined to remove pollutants, including the cancer-causing tobacco-specific nitrosamines. It is the same as is used in nicotine replacement therapy products such as patches, gum and inhalers. Nicotine in and of itself has not been proven to cause cancer.
Other known additives
There have been instances of e-liquid containing water, vodka or pure-grain alcohol, but these are not necessary and reputable e-liquid manufacturers don't use them. It's easy to avoid these additives and it's always a good idea to.
What PG/VG ratio should I choose?
The ratio you choose will generally come down to a few factors:
- What kind of device you are using,
- How "strong" you want it to be (eg. lots of "throat hit" or "lung hit" or little to none),
- How big you want your clouds, and
- How sweet you want it to taste.
PG is responsible for the "throat hit" and "lung hit", but can cause dryness of the mouth and airways in excessive amounts. PG does not produce a lot of vapour.
VG is responsible for the clouds and the sweeter flavouring, but can clog certain tanks and clearomizers. VG does not produce any "throat hit" or "lung hit".
Rule 1 - if in doubt, 50/50 it
If it's your first time buying, or you're using a clearomizer, or you just aren't sure how to choose, go 50/50. You will get the best of both worlds with the strength, sweetness and cloud production, and won't clog your gear up. Once you're in the swing of vaping you can begin to experiment with different ratios.
Rule 2 - not strong enough? Up the PG.
If you have decreased your dose of nicotine but are not getting the same amount of satisfaction from vaping, upping the PG to 60% can be a good way to deal with it.
Rule 3 - not cloudy enough? Up the VG.
VG is responsible for the cloud production, which can be quite impressive with the right mixture and right equipment. If you're switching to using a rebuildable dripping atomizer, it's also a good idea to up the VG, as the simple logistics of how RDAs work will change the flavour of the vape and make it harsher than out of a clearo or tank.
Is e-liquid safe?
It's very important to only get your e-liquid from reputable manufacturers. In Australia, we are very lucky to have an abundance of exceptional quality e-juice producers - in fact, you're reading the blog of one of the best right now! ;-)
When buying from overseas, only buy from vendors who have a good reputation and who have been in the game for a while. You should exercise extra caution when buying from anywhere other than the US, Australia or New Zealand, the countries with the highest quality standards.
It is also vitally important to treat liquid nicotine with respect. Nicotine is a toxic substance which can kill you in the right dose. There's no need to buy "pure" nicotine or 100mg/L solution unless you are an expert mixer, highly experienced and knowledgeable in toxic chemical handling and safety. You're far better off buying nicotine solution at a set strength and mixing it with Aussie-made doublers. You can check out this blog post for more information on doublers.
Hopefully we've been able to shed some light on the issue of PG/VG ratios and which one you should pick. If you're still not sure, hit up your local vendor for some more advice and information.
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