You've done your research and found a vape setup that both looks slick and hopefully works well, and now you need to pick up some eJuice. Finding tasty sounding flavors is easy enough, but they all have these mysterious PG and VG ratios. What are PG and VG and how do they affect eJuice? This is the question that we're going to be learning about today!
Before going into eJuice specifics, let's talk about PG and VG themselves. PG, or propylene glycol, is a clear liquid with a slightly sweet taste. PG has many industrial uses, and is commonly found in cosmetics. The FDA considers PG safe for human consumption, and it is commonly found in many food products. It can also be vaporized and inhaled without causing any known issues. Some people may be sensitive to PG, and it can cause skin irritation after being inhaled in rare cases.
VG, or vegetable glycerin, is another clear liquid with a slightly sweet taste. VG, like PG is commonly used in industrial applications. Many food products, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals are made with VG. Soap, cough syrup, laxatives, icing, and many other products may use VG as an ingredient. The FDA categorizes vegetable glycern as a carbohydrate, and it can even be used as a sweetener.
Now then, about those PG/VG ratios! The easiest way to pick out the PG/VG ratio in a given eJuice is to simply give the bottle a shake. If the liquid moves around readily and acts somewhat like water, it is likely to be high in PG. If the liquid is thick like syrup, it's likely high in VG. The most common PG/VG ratio found in eJuice is 70/30 VG/PG. In a 70/30 mix, approximately 70% of the contents are VG based, and 30% of the contents are PG based. The added flavorings and nicotine are available both in a PG and a VG suspension, making it relatively easy to hit these exact marks. This mix is common because it's thin enough to wick easily into most wicking materials, but still thick enough to provide a smooth vape. VG, if used by itself, turns into a thick, smooth cloud of vapor that can barely be felt when inhaled. PG on the other hand provides a significant kick to the throat (like a traditional cigarette), and produces thin vapor that dissipates quickly. EJuice that is mixed with a simple 100% ratio of either chemical wouldn't work for most vapers, as pure VG can have a tough time wicking and pure PG can be too much to handle. The solution found was to mix the two, but vaper's preferences vary greatly, resulting in the wide variety of ratios found today.
In the past, higher PG eJuice was more common due to a variety of factors. First, 'first-gen' vaping hardware was mainly designed to replicate a traditional cigarette as closely as possible. High PG mixes when vaporized and inhaled can feel very similar to smoking. Second, this older hardware didn't wick as well or as quickly as modern hardware, which would result in dry hits if used with a mix high in VG. Third, early eJuice manufacturers simply did not commonly produce high VG product. PG-free eJuice has been available since the beginning of vaping, but was seen as a niche product for people who suffer from PG sensitivity. Even today, if a smoker was presented with a vaping setup filled with high VG eJuice, they may feel as though something is missing, and may not be satisfied with the smooth, thick vapor produced. However, many vapers today prefer a smooth vape, and high VG eJuice does the job very well.
The issue with high PG is compounded by the increasing amount of power that is used by vapers over time. 3-4 years ago, most vapers didn't vape at over 12 watts. Today, 120 watts isn't out of the ordinary! At lower power settings, the throat hit from high PG eJuice was manageable and cigarette-like. At higher power settings, it can feel like you've swallowed a burning coal.
A recent eJuice line that bucks the high VG trend is B. E-Liquids, from the popular reviewer Phil Busardo. When asked about the community's reaction to the line being produced in a 60/40 PG/VG ratio, Phil replied:
"[The reaction has been] good and bad. Many shops don't carry high PG liquids so it's a hard sell. However, those shops who still cater to and care about the smoker get it. It's very easy to sell vaping gear to a vaper. It's much harder to reach a smoker which is one of the challenges with the line. Some people put it in a dripper, hit it at 150W and don't understand why it doesn't vape well. That's not what it's designed for. Now the people who still enjoy the smoking experience from their vape, tend to really enjoy it."
Many eJuice manufacturers and vendors use the term "Max VG" to describe their mix. This nomenclature can be tricky, as one "Max VG" eJuice may not vape at all similarly to another. In general, the accepted meaning of "Max VG" is that aside from the PG found in the flavorings and nicotine, the rest of the eJuice is made of up of pure VG. However, the percentages of flavoring and nicotine in a given eJuice can vary greatly. A simple 3mg flavor offered in "Max VG" may end up being a 90/10 VG/PG mix, while a complex flavor higher in nicotine may end up even lower than 70/30 VG/PG. I highly suggest contacting any manufacturer that marks their eJuice as being "Max VG" in order to determine what the actual ratio is, so that you can be sure that the product meets your preferences. People with a PG sensitivity should never consider "Max VG" eJuice to be the solution without more research.
Another term used by eJuice manufacturers and vendors is "PG Free". PG free simply means that the eJuice does not contain any PG. These vendors use flavorings and nicotine which are suspended in VG rather than PG. These components are not as commonly found as their VG based counterparts, and flavorings may not be available in as great of a variety. Some "PG Free" manufacturers branch out into other ingredients such as water or alcohol to use as a filler. Make sure to keep in mind that "PG Free" doesn't necessarily mean "Only VG", just that the eJuice doesn't contain VG.
For new vapers, I would suggest always starting with a standard 70/30 VG/PG mixture. From here, it's easy to make adjustments. If you want a more cloudy and smooth vape, try 80/20 VG/PG or higher. If you want less vapor and more of a throat hit, 50/50 mixes can still be commonly found. Some vendors even offer the same flavor in a variety of ratios, allowing you to find the mix that works for you.