Understanding the Difference Between a PG and VG Vaporizer

By Kristina Parren
Formm Agency, Usplash

With flavors such as menthol, caramel apple, and even Bavarian cream, vaping devices and e-juices are highly attractive alternatives to traditional tobacco cigarettes. In order to deliver these sweet flavors, vegetable glycerin (VG) and propylene glycol (PG) are used to carry the flavoring.

You may have heard of these ingredients before, as they are often found in food and cosmetic products. Since 2016, the FDA has regulated VG and PG as components of e-juice in addition to their other uses.

The experience of ingesting these ingredients is different from inhaling them, however, and that vape experience is contingent upon the ratio of VG to PG in the e-liquid.

What is Inside E-Juice?

No matter what flavor of e-juice you vape, the basic components of e-juice remain the same.

  • Water
  • VG or PG
  • Flavoring
  • Nicotine (optional)

While some vape juices contain 100 percent VG or PG, it is common to see a mixture of both ingredients in order to achieve a desired effect.

What is Vegetable Glycerin?

Vegetable glycerin is derived from plant oils, including soy, coconut and palm. When these vegetable fats are heated under pressure, the glycerin separates from the fatty acids and mixes with water. The result is a clear syrup that is odorless and slightly sweet.

You’ll find VG in skin moisturizers, soaps, desserts, and even some medications. It typically has a hydrating effect.

What is Propylene Glycol?

Propylene glycol is an odorless and tasteless synthetic compound used as an additive in food products and even antifreeze. Yes, its relation to antifreeze may sound unsettling, but propylene glycol actually has fairly low toxicity, which makes it a safe additive in your food, cosmetics, and medications.

So, why is it so useful? Besides a low melting point that lends itself to antifreeze, PG holds flavoring and retains water very well. Its hydrating effects are even stronger than vegetable glycerin, making it a popular ingredient in vape juices.

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VG vs PG: Which is Better?

They perform similar functions, but VG and PG have a different chemical make-up. This means that they both have their advantages and disadvantages when they are vaped.

Let’s take a look at the strengths of both in a round-by-round battle.

VG vs PG
Vegetable Glycerin Propylene Glycol
Throat Hit ✔️
Flavor ✔️
Vapor Cloud ✔️
Smoothness ✔️
Easy Clean Up ✔️
Side Effects ✔️
Wick Absorption ✔️

VG vs PG: Throat Hit

Propylene glycol provides a stronger throat hit, which means you will need a higher percentage of PG than VG for a good throat hit. For individuals who are transitioning from smoking tobacco to vaping, PG may offer a similar feeling in the back of the throat.

One survey found that not only do high PG formulas produce a stronger throat hit, but menthol and tobacco flavors specifically improve throat hit.

VG vs PG: Flavor

If you want pure flavor, then a high PG juice is the way to go. PG is tasteless, unlike VG, which often tastes sweet. Therefore, it doesn’t interfere with the taste of the flavoring ingredient. You’ll get the most of your “buttered pecan” or “cotton candy” flavor in each vape.

VG vs PG: Vapor Cloud

If you’re a cloud chaser, then high VG is the way to go. Vegetable glycerin is more viscous, so its vapor is much thicker. A higher VG to PG ratio will give you a denser, more satisfying cloud.

VG vs PG: Smoothness

For a less snappy throat hit and a fuller, smoother vapor, then you should choose a higher VG to PG ratio. A VG juice will be more muted in terms of flavor, but this can be fixed by adjusting power or increasing the amount of PG in the juice.

VG vs PG: Easy Clean Up

Since VG has a higher viscosity, it tends to produce more gunk in the vape mod, especially around the coil. PG, which is thinner, produces less buildup, making it easier to clean.

VG vs PG: Side Effects

Higher PG formulas have a tendency to cause more side effects. The most notable include:

  • Allergic Reactions – Vaping PG is more likely to cause allergic reactions. In fact, in 2018, it was named the “Allergen of the Year” by the American Contact Dermatitis Society (ACDS). Reactions are also possible with VG, but PG has a higher risk.
  • Dehydration – PG has been known to cause mouth and throat dryness, so increasing the amount of VG in the formula may reduce oral dehydration.

VG vs PG: Wick Absorption

Your e-juice is a bit like engine oil. The thicker your car’s oil, the harder it can be to start the engine. With vape juice, the higher its viscosity, the longer it takes to vaporize. Therefore, as the thinner ingredient, PG takes less time and power to create a sufficient, warm vapor. Unfortunately, this also means that you may use up your PG-based juice faster.

Finding the Golden Ratio

Should you go with 100 percent PG e-liquid or 100 percent VG e-liquid? These formulas are available, but they may not be optimal. For example, a 100 percent PG formula may be intense on the back of the throat. On the other hand, a 100 percent VG formula may not wick well.

It’s best to start with a 50/50 formula and adjust from there. If you have some experience, you may find that the commonly used 60:40 PG to VG ratio is best. It produces a nice throat hit and flavor with less intensity than a 100 percent PG formula.

VG vs PG Based on Device Type

Different vape mods often require different ratios to achieve the best vape.

  • For vape devices that have higher resistance, use a thinner, high PG formula.
  • Coils with less surface area work best with less viscosity, as well.
  • Sub-ohm vape tanks designed for large clouds work best with high VG formulas (but not 100%).

Are VG and PG Vapes Safe?

Though vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol are considered safe for consumption, specifically through ingestion, research is still being conducted to determine level of safety by inhalation. Any time that you inhale substances other than oxygen, you are putting yourself at risk.

Research finds that the flavors that VG and PG carry may be greater dangers to one’s health. The American Heart Association warns that cinnamon, clove, citrus and floral flavors may cause some damage to heart muscle cells.

A study of human lung cells tested the toxicity of 143 chemicals found in e-liquids. E-liquids that contain vanillin and cinnamaldehyde had higher toxicity. This study supports previous studies that claim vaping can alter airway secretions and proteins within the lungs.

It is important to be aware of these possible negative health effects. While VG and PG vapes are considered safer than tobacco products, all information should be taken into account to make the best decision for you.

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