“What exactly is in E-Liquid?” “Is it safe?” “It has anti-freeze in it!” “I’ve heard it’s worse than cigarettes!” These are a few questions and statements I’ve been on the receiving end of lately so I thought it would be great to write up an article solely devoted to what exactly is in the E-Liquid we are vaping.
Let me start off by stating that E-Juice as well as E-Cigarettes have not been around long enough for conclusive scientific studies of what the long term effects are on humans.
There have been short term studies on vapor that is inhaled into the lungs as well as studies in second hand vapor, which have all come back as having minimal to 0 adverse health effects on the user of E-Cigarettes as well as second hand vapor.
Electronic Cigarette Liquid goes by many names including but not limited to, E-Liquid, E-Juice, and Juice. Whatever you may call it; it is made up of 4 basic ingredients which are vegetable glycerin (VG), propylene glycol (PG), Natural and Artificial Flavorings, and Nicotine (optional).
This liquid, when heated up by a small heated coil called an atomizer (the part of the e-cigarette that turns the liquid into a vapor) becomes the vapor we inhale.
Vegetable Glycerin (VG)
Vegetable Glycol or Glycerin, VG for short, is an organic compound of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. VG is a Non-Toxic, viscous, odorless, colorless, and sweet liquid usually added to cosmetics, food flavorings, and ice cream.
VG can be made directly from vegetable oil, often coconut or palm oil, by heating it to a high temperature under pressure with water. The solution is then distilled to purify it. Manufacturers of E-Liquids use USP Food Grade Vegetable Glycerin which is 99.7% pure with the remaining 0.3% being water.
E-Liquid manufacturers commonly use it as a base for the rest of the E-Juice. For vapers, VG is what produces most of the visible vapor or “cloud” on exhale.
Propylene Glycol (PG)
Propylene Glycol or PG, is used to dilute the thickness of the VG liquid. PG makes the e-liquid easier for clearomizers with wicks or cotton to vape. It also produces a “throat hit” which mimics the feeling of the cigarette smoke that smokers are used to, helping people who are coming off cigarettes to still feel like they are getting that sensation.
Propylene Glycol has been researched and classified as “very low toxicity” and has been approved for use in food and other applications such as hospital air disinfectant and as a non-active ingredient in the aerosol used with inhalers for asthma patients.
For E-Juice purposes, Propylene Glycol also serves as a great “carrier” or solvent for flavorings as it bonds with the flavor molecules a lot more effectively than VG.
Some potential applications for Propylene Glycol include cough syrups, toothpaste, mouthwashes, food preservatives, and non-toxic anti/deicing fluids.
Please note, a common misconception that I’ve been hearing lately is that “E-Liquid has anti-freeze in it!” This is completely false. E-Liquid contains no anti-freeze whatsoever. Propylene Glycol is often commonly confused with ethylene glycol.
Ethylene glycol is considered moderately toxic and is used in the Anti-Freeze you use in your car. The Propylene Glycol in E-Liquid is added to “Non-Toxic Anti-Freeze” used in food-processing systems or in water pipes in homes where incidental ingestion may be possible.
As confirmation of its relative non-toxicity, the FDA allows propylene glycol to be added to a large number of processed foods, including ice cream, frozen custard, salad dressings and baked goods.
A study conducted by the FDA in 1973 states: There is no evidence in the available information on propylene glycol and propylene glycol monostearate that demonstrates, or suggests reason to suspect, a hazard to the public. Propylene glycol does not cause sensitization (getting a worse reaction over time) and it shows no evidence of being a carcinogen or toxic.
Natural and Artificial Flavoring
E-Liquid flavoring starts with using flavoring concentrates. Just like with food, there are 3 types of flavoring concentrates for E-Juice manufacturers to choose from while making E-Juice.
We have Natural flavoring, Artificial flavoring, and also a mix of both Natural and Artificial flavorings. The natural flavors found in E-Liquid contain absolutely no artificial ingredients, additives, colors, or sweeteners.
The flavors are extracted from their natural source using various methods to make a concentrate, and are then bottled and sold to E-Juice manufacturers or to consumers for DIY E-Juice making.
Artificial flavors are simply chemical mixtures that mimic a natural flavor. The Natural and Artificial Flavoring mixed concentrates are just that. A mix of Natural and Artificial flavor concentrates.
Remember, most of these flavorings have not been tested for inhalation and only for being ingested. We need more scientific evidence to support if this is safe.
Merriam-Webster defines Nicotine as “a poisonous alkaloid C10H14N2 that is the chief active principle of tobacco and is used as an insecticide.” Nicotine is an addictive substance.There is no question about that, as I’m sure most ex-smokers can relate to. It has been scientifically proven.
With that being said, Nicotine is found in most E-Liquids in various medium to low milligram levels mixed with the other ingredients of E-Juice: VG, PG, and Concentrated Flavorings.
Mostly you will find E-Juice manufactures making their E-Juice at 24, 18, 12, 6, 3, and 0 mg per milliliter levels. These levels are found to be “relatively safe” for human inhalation. Some vapers prefer E-Liquids with zero nicotine content because they enjoy the act of vaping and the flavor that goes along with it.
By varying in milligram strength, vapers have the option to wean themselves down or even completely off of nicotine at a gradual rate. Personally, I started with cigarettes, moved to vaping at 24mg, moved down on the above mentioned scale about every two months, and now I vape 3mg E-Juice.
A lot of people automatically lump Cigarettes, Tobacco, and Nicotine together as one. Nicotine isn’t the ingredient in traditional cigarettes that kills you or causes cancer. Tobacco, tar, carcinogens and other chemicals found in cigarettes are what have an adverse effect on your health.
When diluted to low levels like those found in e-liquid, some users like myself and my friends, find nicotine to produce a calming effect and can also improve concentration.
To quote a recently published article in Discover Magazine titled “Nicotine – The Wonder Drug?”:
“IF DOZENS OF HUMAN AND ANIMAL STUDIES PUBLISHED OVER THE PAST SIX YEARS ARE BORNE OUT BY LARGE CLINICAL TRIALS, NICOTINE — FREED AT LAST OF ITS NOXIOUS HOST, TOBACCO, AND DELIVERED INSTEAD BY CHEWING GUM OR TRANSDERMAL PATCH — MAY PROVE TO BE A WEIRDLY, IMPROBABLY EFFECTIVE DRUG FOR RELIEVING OR PREVENTING A VARIETY OF NEUROLOGICAL DISORDERS, INCLUDING PARKINSON’S DISEASE, MILD COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENT (MCI), TOURETTE’S AND SCHIZOPHRENIA. IT MIGHT EVEN IMPROVE ATTENTION AND FOCUS ENOUGH TO QUALIFY AS A COGNITIVE ENHANCER. AND, OH YEAH, IT’S LONG BEEN ASSOCIATED WITH WEIGHT LOSS, WITH FEW KNOWN SAFETY RISKS.”
So maybe Nicotine, when used properly isn’t the incredibly awful drug we’ve all been taught to think.
There has been controversy surrounding what “other” ingredients are being put into E-Liquid. The number one controversial ingredient that was added to a few E-Juices was Diacetyl. The FDA has listed Diacetyl on their Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) list of food additive products, yet they have not made a statement regarding the safety of the inhalation of Diacetyl in vapor form.
Diacetyl is suspected to cause a condition called “Popcorn Lung”. Back in the 1950’s a group of workers working in a popcorn factory came down with bronchiolitis or “Popcorn Lung”. It is said that it was caused by the Diacetyl chemical used in the flavoring of butter.
Studies at 6 different Popcorn Manufacturing Plants confirmed that they weren’t sure whether it was the Diacetyl or if it was another chemical in the air that caused the bronchiolitis. Erring on the side of safety, most E-Juice manufacturers do not add Diacetyl to their E-Liquid mixtures.
So the next time someone tries to tell you that E-liquid gives you cancer, is worse for you than cigarettes, or is worried about second hand vapor, you’ll be prepared with the facts. E-liquid has 4 ingredients, all approved by the FDA for human consumption. There may not be an long term evidence that it is safe to inhale, but i feel a hell of a lot better vaping than i do smoking, and i think that is all something we can agree on.
Feel free to ask any questions you’d like in the comments below, and share this with your friends and family.