eLiquid-ology: What is Vegetable Glycerin?

VG & Your eLiquid

Vegetable glycerin or glycerol is an organic compound of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen (C3H803). It is manufactured as a byproduct of the soapmaking industry from oils and fats.

It can be created from animal fats or in the case of vegetable glycerin, vegetable oil. But in truth, the source of the raw material does not affect the chemical compound of glycerol. But because it is used widely in food and medication, the distinction is important to vegetarians. Being as versatile as propylene glycol, glycerin is also used as a sweetener, in cosmetics, and many other products most people use daily.

Glycerin is made up of three carbon atoms, attached to one side are hydrogen atoms and hydroxyl atoms on the other. This hydrogen bond is what gives glycerin its syrupy consistency and allows for it to be easily soluble in water.

Chemically, glycerin is an alcohol, but as it is used in food, the Food And Drug Administration (FDA) has classified it as a carbohydrate because it provides calories to the human body and it is not a protein or a fat. Just like propylene glycol, it also lowers the freezing point of water.

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How it is made:

Most glycerin is made as a by-product of the soap-making process. In the manufacturing of soap, either vegetable oil or animal fat is heated with a strong alkali (a caustic soda like sodium hydroxide), which makes soap and a mixture of glycerin in water. This solution is then distilled to separate out the pure glycerin.

VG can also be made straight from vegetable oil, usually coconut or palm oil—by heating it to a high temperature while it is under pressure with water. In this process, the glycerin splits from the fatty acids of the oil and is absorbed by the surrounding water. This is then distilled in order to get the pure glycerin. Food grade VG is 99.7% pure with 0.3% being water.

Vegetable Glycerin in eLiquids:

It is important for you to know that food grade VG is NOT suitable for inhalation, as only pharmaceutical grade is.  So pay attention to your labels if you do purchase VG when mixing your own eliquids.

ONLY these labels are Pharma Grade:

Glycerin, USP

Glycerin, BP

Glycerin, EU

Any other labels that you see are NOT suitable. Only glycerin products without the USP/BP label are most likely food grade but may also be industrial or agricultural. So do your research thoroughly before you purchase, mix, or inhale!

eLiquids that are based with VG usually are composed of 80% to 92% of glycerin. VG is the ingredient in eliquid that produces the “smoke-like” vapor we are all familiar with. Around 20% of all the eliquid on the market is VG based. This is due to a few characteristics of VG.

Though VG creates a thicker cloud of vapor, it also has a reduced throat hit, which is not as appealing to some because they tend to enjoy the feeling of the throat hit due to its likeness to smoking an analog cigarette. VG also has a much thicker consistency as compared to PG—because of this it is the main culprit in reducing the life of atomizers.  It is also due to this viscosity why VG does not hold flavor as well as PG. This is why eliquid manufacturers use a combination of both PG and VG to try and balance out the good traits of both of the liquids.

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Other uses of Vegetable Glycerin:

Because of its versatility, VG can be found in the many items that you use everyday. Here are some examples.

  • Eye & Ear drops
  • Toothpastes, other types of pastes and ointments
  • Many dental care products
  • Pet food
  • Medicines (pills, cough syrup, inhalants)
  • Soap
  • Skin and hand lotions
  • Baked goods (because it is a humectant—holds in moisture)
  • Gel thickener (creams, gel capsule pills, rubs, jellies)
  • Beauty products (makeup, bubble bath, mousse, deodorant, shampoos, after shave)
  • Sweetener
  • Thickener in liquors
  • Anti-aging / Anti-acne products

Vegetable Glycerin & Your Body:

It has been found that VG is one of the most benign organic liquids made by man. It is hypoallergenic, non-carcinogenic, nonteratogenic, and even non-mutagenic. Once it gets into your body it is metabolized easily through a process called beta-oxidation (basically the same process your body uses to break down fatty acid molecules to use as energy).

Here are a few other facts on VG and your body (from the SIDS Initial Assessment Report of Glycerin):

  • VG does not possess any properties that would create mutations in your body
  • It has been found to have no effect on fertility and reproduction
  • VG does not cause genetic mutations in bacterial strains nor does it have any chromosomal effects to mammalian cells
  • VG has a low potential of being an eye or skin irritant
  • VG is listed as having low toxicity when ingested, inhaled, or when it comes into contact with skin

Even though VG is labeled as a safe substance by the FDA (it is also on the GRAS-Generally Recognized As Safe List), there are still people who may be allergic to the product—although the occurrence is quite rare.

Some individuals may be allergic to the palm or coconut oil it was manufactured from. It’s been found that the most common noted side effect of the inhalation of eliquid with a lot of VG is a dry mouth, increased thirst, and a sore throat. These symptoms are temporary and only lasts a few days. To prevent such symptoms from occurring, make sure that you drink more water than usual if the eliquid is new to you.  

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