What Are the Ingredients in E-Liquid?
As a vaper, you are undoubtedly very concerned about what you put into your body. That’s the reason why you switched to vaping – because you knew that you were putting poison into your body as a smoker, and you wanted to do something to change that. Now that you’ve transitioned fully to vaping and are no longer a smoker, it’s time to take a closer look at what you’re consuming as a vaper.
So, what are the ingredients in e-liquid? As you’re about to learn, the ingredients of vape juice are actually refreshingly simple and straightforward. Although e-liquid can be somewhat complex from a flavour standpoint, most of what you inhale when you vape comes down to just a handful of ingredients.
Propylene Glycol and Vegetable Glycerine
The vast majority of any bottle of e-liquid consists of propylene glycol, vegetable glycerine or – more commonly – a blend of the two. The flavours and nicotine that e-liquid makers use are both very concentrated in their original forms. An entire bottle of e-liquid may contain just a few drops of flavour and nicotine because those ingredients are meant to be diluted with a carrier. In e-liquid, propylene glycol and vegetable glycerine are the carriers. They are the majority of what you inhale when you vape, and they form the clouds that you see. Both are approved as safe food additives.
- Propylene glycol is a synthetic chemical that’s commonly used as a solvent, a carrier and an emulsifier. As a solvent and carrier, propylene glycol is commonly found in liquid and inhaled medications. Many liquid flavours – including a large percentage of the flavours used in e-liquid production – use propylene glycol as a carrier. Propylene glycol is a very effective emulsifier for liquid ingredients, so you’ll find it in many beauty products like lotions and cosmetics.
- Vegetable glycerine is a natural compound that’s created during the soapmaking process; soap and glycerine are the two products that you get when you add lye to fat. Glycerine is an excellent moisturiser, so it’s found in many soaps and lotions. It also works as a solvent and as an emulsifier, so it can be used in many products as an alternative to propylene glycol. An additional property of glycerine is that it tastes slightly sweet. It can enhance the sweetness of an e-liquid, and it’s also used in some low-glycaemic foods and snacks. A small number of vapers are allergic to propylene glycol and buy 100-percent vegetable glycerine e-liquids to avoid triggering their sensitivities.
Most e-liquids contain both propylene glycol and vegetable glycerine; vape juice makers combine those ingredients in different ratios to express different properties. Glycerine is the thicker of the two liquids, and the thickness contributes to bigger vapour clouds and a fuller mouth feel. Propylene glycol produces smaller vapour clouds, but it is a better flavour carrier and produces a more assertive throat hit. Learn more about PG/VG ratios.
Natural and Artificial Flavours
The flavour profile of an e-liquid is the thing that separates it from all other e-liquids, and the flavours used for vape juice are the same food-grade flavours that companies in the food industry use when making candies, beverages and snacks. The fact that the ingredients in e-liquid are often the same as the ingredients that you eat and drink every day is why the flavour profile of a vape juice can often taste so true to life.
As is the case with many foods and snacks, the flavouring agents used in vape juice are both natural and artificial. The only difference between the two types of flavours is that an artificial flavour is synthesised in a laboratory, and a natural flavour is extracted from something – usually a plant – that occurs in nature. A natural flavour, however, doesn’t necessarily come from the thing named on the bottle. For instance, a natural apple flavour may actually be extracted from a fruit other than an apple.
The most common e-liquid flavour is so popular these days that it deserves specific mentioning. That flavour is sucralose, the common sugar-free sweetener. If you’ve ever tasted an e-liquid that was almost as sweet as real candy and left a sweet film on your lips, that vape juice probably contained sucralose. Although sucralose does taste delicious, it also leaves a residue on your atomizer coil that can make your vape taste burnt.
The final ingredient of e-liquid – and most likely, the reason why you vape – is nicotine. This ingredient isn’t quite as straightforward as it once was because, as the needs and preferences of the vaping community have evolved over the years, vape juice makers have begun using different types of nicotine in their products. We’ll explain the three types of nicotine that are used as e-liquid ingredients today.
- Freebase nicotine is the most common type of nicotine that you’ll find in e-liquid. It’s extracted from tobacco leaves with the help of ammonia, which is used as a solvent. Freebase nicotine is also what’s used for most nicotine replacement products, such as gums, lozenges and patches.
- Nicotine salt is nicotine that’s been converted from a free base to a salt via the addition of a mild acid such as benzoic acid. Compared to freebase nicotine, nicotine salt is a bit smoother and easier to inhale. If your usual e-liquid has a low nicotine strength in the 3-6 mg/ml range, you probably won’t notice the difference in smoothness between freebase nicotine and nicotine salt. If you use a higher-strength vape juice in the 10-20 mg/ml range, though, you’ll probably find that nicotine salt e-liquid is more pleasurable to use and is much easier on your throat. Nicotine salt makes it possible for people with small vaping devices to use high-nicotine e-liquids without experiencing discomfort and throat irritation.
- Synthetic nicotine is nicotine that’s not extracted from tobacco leaves and is instead synthesised in a laboratory. In the past, synthetic nicotine was too costly to be of use in the vaping industry. It has recently decreased in cost, though, and it is highly likely that more e-liquid makers will be transitioning to tobacco-free nicotine in 2021 and beyond.