E-liquid is a curious thing, a relatively new substance that doesn’t seem to fit in one clear category. We know it isn’t a natural substance, but the range of sweet flavours mean that for many of us it fits somewhere between a processed food product and something almost chemical. This misunderstanding has led to a lot of confusion surrounding E-liquids, from their expiration dates to their long-term effects, all the way to concerns about storage and specialist preparation. By far the largest misunderstanding is over the contents of E-liquid itself.
What is in E-liquid, what are they made of and what, exactly, does it all mean?
Rumours abound that E-liquids contain everything from blended food products to antifreeze. It can be difficult to push back against this kind of misinformation, certainly these rumours are more exciting to read than the relatively mundane reality of what goes into E-liquids, but informing people of the reality of E-liquid manufacturing is precisely what will ensure the longevity of the industry.
Knowing what you’re putting into your vape is vital for any avid vaper, both for peace of mind and in order to know what is best for you. Understanding the difference between a high PG and a high VG E-liquid can help you determine your best option without even touching the bottle itself, a vital asset on online purchasing. Furthermore, maintenance and upkeep of your vaping device will hinge on your understanding of what you’ve put into your tank. The better you know your E-liquid, the better you’ll be able to keep your hardware in top condition and ensure that your experience is as good as can be.
So, what is in E-liquid? Broadly speaking we can categorise the contents of E-liquids into four different components: vegetable glycerine, propylene glycol, flavourings and either nicotine or CBD. To find out exactly what is in E-liquid, let’s explore the realities of these ingredients and the function they serve.
WHAT IS IN E-LIQUID: VEGETABLE GLYCERINE
Vegetable glycerine, as the name suggests, is a compound drawn from naturally occurring plant matter. Colourless, odourless, with a moderate viscosity and slight sweetness to it, this is one of the primary components of an E-liquid. Alongside propylene glycol, these two compounds make up the majority of the mass of most E-liquids.
Vegetable glycerine is generally smooth on the throat, whilst its increased thickness makes it ideal for producing larger clouds. Because of this VG is a popular component of E-liquids designed specifically for sub-ohm vapes. The underlying sweetness of vegetable glycerin also works well with sweeter flavourings, however some vapers claim that more complex flavours like tobacco tend to be dulled in high-VG E-liquids. It should also be noted that the increased thickness of VG tends to result in more residue being left on coils and in tanks.
Although some E-liquids will contain purely vegetable glycerine as their primary carrying agent, the vast majority are designed around a ratio of vegetable glycerin to propylene glycol. These ratios can lean towards one substance over the other, or aim for a perfectly even balance.
WHAT IS IN E-LIQUID: PROPYLENE GLYCOL
Propylene glycol is also a naturally occurring organic compound, one that is synthesised rather than being drawn from plants. Like vegetable glycerin it is colourless and odourless, though less sweet and much thinner in consistency than its counterpart.
Because of this it is generally agreed that propylene glycol is easier to handle, flowing into a tank much more easily. It’s thinner consistency allows it to vaporise much faster than VG, as well as being generally “cleaner” and leaving less residue in the tank and coil. It’s lessened sweetness allows it to work well with all manner of flavourings, from a straightforward menthol to the more complex dessert or tobacco flavours. For this reason many manufacturers choose to use more PG in their heavily flavourful E-liquids.
This thinness does also mean that PG heavy E-liquids tend to produce less vapour than VG heavy E-liquids. Propylene glycol does also carry with it a chance for allergic reaction, so if you have a known reaction to this compound it is always important to avoid these kinds of E-liquids.
WHAT IS IN E-LIQUID: FLAVOURINGS
One of the biggest draws of E-liquids are the sheer range of flavours that are available. From its earliest beginnings where E-liquids were designed almost purely to mimic the flavours of conventional tobacco, to today where everything from lemon tart to fruit-infused marijuana flavours are available, the taste of E-liquid has come a long way.
This development has hinged on a deeper understanding of and experimentation with synthetic flavourings. Although several manufacturers attempted to use natural flavourings for their E-liquids in the past, we currently have no way of preserving them against the heat of a coil. When your E-liquid evaporates, any flavourings drawn from natural sources tend to lose their qualities and burn.
As such, synthetic flavourings are the primary compounds that dictate the taste of an E-liquid. The vaping industry has developed a wide range of commonly used compounds, including elements that give us certain citrus or fruity notes, those that can add the creaminess of vanilla or the coolness of menthol, and even some that emulate the deeper flavours of puddings or coffee. These compounds essentially provide a base of flavour, a point from which manufacturers can use additional flavourings to build up a rich and complex taste. This is how flavours like cheesecake, apple and blackberry, mixed grapes and many others come together.
WHAT IS IN E-LIQUID: NICOTINE AND CBD
The very first vapes were designed specifically to help people overcome smoking habits. As such one of their primary features were E-liquids that included nicotine, allowing a former smoker to get the same hit they would from a conventional cigarette without any of the carcinogenic properties of combustible tobacco.
E-liquids have come a long way since then, benefitting from a wider user-base that brings with it people who use E-liquid for different purposes. Some enjoy the act of vaping itself, with the flavours and the production of vapour being the star of the show. For this reason non-infused E-liquids enjoy a popular presence on the UK vaping market. With no nicotine or other additive substance, these E-liquids are a simple mix of VG, PG and flavourings.
Another increasingly popular option is CBD. An extract from the hemp plant, CBD is a non-psychoactive, non-intoxicating compound that many people enjoy dosing for a variety of reasons. CBD is an industry unto itself, featuring everything from CBD oils to CBD topicals, but it’s presence amongst E-liquids is undeniable. Alongside CBD came another popular E-liquid ingredient, terpenes. These organic compounds, derived from hemp plants in the same way CBD is, are essentially additional flavourings that carry earthier tones with them. Acting both on taste and smell terpenes have been a popular addition to the wider E-liquid industry, particularly in those ranges that aim to provide marijuana-style flavouring and scent.
Even considering these many options, nicotine infused E-liquids remain particularly popular in the vaping community. For many people vaping is an opportunity to overcome a cigarette addiction, so including nicotine in E-liquids can be a great help. The nicotine is of a similar potency to those found in cigarettes, coming in a form that vaporises just as easily as all the other ingredients in E-liquids.
The varied flavours of E-liquids are an advantage alongside this, offering that same nicotine hit with more opportunity for varied tastes. Still, some people prefer the taste of tobacco with their nicotine hit, so there’s plenty of tobacco flavoured E-liquids out there offering a rich, deep flavour.
Using nicotine infused E-liquids many people claim to have successfully overcome a smoking habit. Though this is often touted as an achievement in public health, such a claim is misleading and should not be made by any respectable retailer. Vaping is not good for you; whether your E-liquids contain nicotine, CBD or is a plain non-infused liquid, the act itself is undeniably unhealthy. Attempts to hold vaping up as a health-positive hobby are under-informed and, frankly, widely misleading. The fact remains that there is still an awful lot we don’t understand about vaping, especially where long-term health is concerned.
WHAT IS IN E-LIQUID: PROHIBITED SUBSTANCES
Though there is still much we do not know about vaping, several substances have been prohibited for use in UK E-liquids. In some cases this has been due to a concern over unknown factors in inhaling certain substances. In others however, this has been the result of a particular outbreak of health issues related to a specific ingredient.
Perhaps the most famous of these substances is a buttery-tasting food additive called diacetyl. This additive, once used widely in E-liquids, was linked to an outbreak of “popcorn lung” in a processed food factory. Popcorn lung is the colloquial name for a destructive disease called bronchiolitis obliterans, essentially the irreversible destruction of lung tissue. It was determined that the outbreak was caused when individuals were exposed to large amount of undiluted food flavourings containing diacetyl, leading to the conclusion that diacetyl, whilst safe for ingestion in small quantities, is not safe for inhalation.
Diacetyl is banned from use in all E-liquids by UK law, so E-liquids purchased legally in the UK will be entirely free from this substance. This is just one entry on a list of ingredients banned for use in E-liquids by the UK government; a list that continues to expand as further studies are conducted for the sake of the general health of the vaping community.
WHAT IS IN E-LIQUID: SUMMARY
E-liquid has suffered from a wealth of misinformation about its contents over the years, but we hope in this article we’ve been able to put some of that to rights.
What is in E-liquid? At its most basic E-liquids will contain four ingredients: vegetable glycerine, propylene glycol, flavourings, and an active substance like nicotine or CBD. Some E-liquids will entirely eschew either VG or PG in favour of the other, whilst others will include a wide range of flavourings to achieve some extremely complex tastes and smells. Plenty of E-liquids contain no nicotine or CBD whatsoever, whilst others will contain terpenes alongside these basic ingredients.
The balance of VG to PG in an E-liquid is something you should always be aware of as it has a measurable effect on your vaping experience. Certain ratios will be more beneficial for flavour intensity, whilst others will allow for better vapour production and effective sub-ohm vaping. If you’re a CBD enthusiast, taking a CBD infused E-liquid is one of the most effective ways to dose CBD, working much faster than edibles and having one of the highest rates of bioavailability.
That being said, certain former components of E-liquids have proven to be dangerous and have since entered into a strict regulation. In the same way that vaping devices have seen regulation to ensure their safety, so too have E-liquids. UK law is still catching up with vaping in many ways, but it has begun to take the correct steps to ensure that the vaping industry meets a respectable standard of quality.
That isn’t to say that E-liquids are 100% safe, they distinctly are not. Vaping is the inhalation of a recreational substance -just like conventional smoking- so it will inevitably come with health risks. Although the carcinogenic properties of any reputable E-liquid are far less intense than those found in combustible tobacco, there is still much we do not know about the long-term effects of vaping. As is often the case, further research is needed.
However you like to vape, understanding the content of your E-liquids is vital to ensuring the quality of your experience. When you know what is going into your device you’ll be able to ensure that you take care of your hardware properly. When you know exactly what’s going into your lungs, you’ll be able to tailor your vaping experience to your specific tastes.
Knowing exactly what you like, understanding why you like it, knowing how it could be better, having peace of mind about what is entering your body: these are the things a full understanding of E-liquids can give you. When you understand E-liquid the whole vaping world is open for your enjoyment.