If you’ve ever looked at the ingredients on the label of a bottle of e-liquid, you’ve probably seen a pretty short list. That’s a good thing. Although an e-liquid can have several individual ingredients – that don’t need to be listed individually – under the “natural and artificial flavors” heading, the fact is that e-liquid on the whole is a pretty simple product containing just base liquids, flavors and usually nicotine. What do those ingredients actually mean, though – and what ingredients shouldn’t a bottle of vape juice ever contain? The next time you buy Platinum E-Liquids or another vape juice, you’re going to be armed with a bit more information because this article is going to explain precisely what you should – and shouldn’t – find in a bottle of e-liquid.
What Should E-Liquid Contain?
Propylene Glycol and Vegetable Glycerin
Propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin are the two base liquids that make up the majority of any bottle of e-liquid. E-liquid needs to have base liquids for two very practical reasons. The first reason is because the base liquids create the clouds that you see when you vape, and the second reason is because nicotine and food flavors are extremely strong in their concentrated forms, so it’s necessary to dilute them with something.
Propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin are used in a variety of food, cosmetic and topical products. They’re both considered safe to consume in reasonable amounts, and they’re perfect for e-liquid because they have a number of useful properties. They’re both good emulsifiers, they both inhibit microbial growth and they both turn to thick, smoke-like clouds when they’re heated.
Food-Grade Natural and Artificial Flavors
Although unflavored e-liquid does exist, most people want their vape juice to taste like something – and for those people, a typical bottle of e-liquid includes a blend of natural and artificial flavors. The flavors used in the production of e-liquid are food grade and are, in fact, the exact same flavors that people and companies use in the production of food. That’s why an e-liquid that’s blended with great care can taste almost exactly like a famous candy or snack – it’s because the flavors are the same.
Although there are a few exceptions that are absolutely known to be unsafe – we’ll discuss those shortly – the jury is still out on whether the flavors used in e-liquid are safe to inhale. While those flavors are all considered safe for food use, there isn’t enough research to confirm whether certain flavors are more or less risky than others when they’re inhaled. With that being said, the medical community generally agrees that vaping is around 95 percent less harmful than smoking.
Since most people start vaping because they want to quit smoking, it’s only natural that most e-liquid contains nicotine. Most of the nicotine used for e-liquid is naturally extracted from tobacco leaves. However, synthetic nicotine – or tobacco-free nicotine – is also available and is slowly growing in popularity.
Although synthetic nicotine has no known health benefits compared to nicotine extracted from tobacco, some e-liquid companies in the United States are beginning to use it because – for now, at least – the FDA doesn’t regulate nicotine that isn’t derived from tobacco and isn’t sold with the claim of any medical benefits.
The lack of regulation means that, if an e-liquid company uses synthetic nicotine in its products, that company can release new flavors without first going through the extremely costly process of applying for FDA approval.
Although most e-liquids contain both propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, there are some vapers who prefer to buy e-liquid containing only vegetable glycerin. A few people are allergic or sensitive to propylene glycol; others prefer vegetable glycerin because it’s the thicker of the two liquids and tends to create much bigger vapor clouds.
The fact that vegetable glycerin is so thick, though, means that it may have difficulty flowing through the small openings that vape tanks use for wicking. For that reason, a vape juice using only vegetable glycerin as a base will sometimes contain a few drops of distilled water to thin the mixture slightly.
What Shouldn’t E-Liquid Contain?
Diacetyl is a natural flavoring that’s perfectly safe to consume. It has a buttery flavor and is, in fact, the flavoring agent that makes low-fat popcorn taste like butter. While diacetyl may be safe to eat, though, long-term inhalation of it has been linked to irreversible lung damage. Before buying e-liquid from any brand, you should get the brand’s assurance that its e-liquids do not contain diacetyl.
Vitamin E and Oil-Based Flavors
In 2019, more than 2,000 people in the United States contracted a severe lung illness relating to vaping. Although most recovered with medical care, a few died. Almost all of those people had used THC vaping products. Those products – liquid THC vaping cartridges – were usually purchased from illegal sources. In most cases, the makers of those cartridges used Vitamin E acetate as a diluent to hide the fact that the cartridges contained less than the expected amount of THC oil. Health authorities studying the outbreak determined that there appeared to be a strong link between the inhalation of Vitamin E and lung injury.
Although e-liquid makers have no reason to put vitamin E in their products – and the lung injury outbreak centered around the use of illegal THC products – it still bears mentioning that no e-liquid should ever include Vitamin E or any oil-based flavoring.
To date, almost all of the research surrounding the safety of vaping has focused on the act of vaping in general – not on specific e-liquid ingredients such as individual flavorings. With that in mind, the most logical strategy for making vaping as safe as it can be for you is to avoid the use of any ingredients that don’t directly contribute to the quality of your vaping experience. Over the past few years, some e-liquid companies have begun adding food coloring to their e-liquids to make those products stand out on store shelves. Food coloring adds nothing to your vaping experience, though, and there is no reason why you should ever want to inhale it.