PG Intolerance

PG Intolerance: Recognising the symptoms and what you can do about it

Adam Winter Health Guides 14 Comments

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One member of the team here at Vaping Hardware is unable to vape Propylene Glycol (PG) based e-liquid due to a suspected PG intolerance.

Interestingly, this PG intolerance didn’t present itself until 12 months after he’d started vaping and very nearly ended his vaping journey!

Thankfully, he’s a persistent fellow. Not to mention incredibly handsome, with a wonderful personality and fantastic sense of humour to boot…

Ok, you got me. I’m PG intolerant. Sensitive. Allergic. Whatever you choose to call it, I can no longer enjoy the flavour enhancing benefits of PG.

If I so much as look at PG the wrong way, I get a nasty red rash which spreads across my upper body and face, coupled with swollen gums and VERY dry skin.

It’s not a pretty sight!

BUT… all is not lost!

Using VG based flavourings and nicotine combined with Aqueous Vegetable Glycerine (AVG) I was able to avoid using PG altogether and enjoy vaping with little to no negative side effects.

But it’s apparent that PG intolerance is all too common among vapers and some may not even know they have it!

So let’s have a look at what PG is, what symptoms you may have if intolerant and how you can enjoy the full vaping experience without using it.

What is Propylene Glycol?


Propylene_glycol_Structural_Formulae

Propylene Glycol (PG) is a clear, odourless and almost tasteless liquid classified by the chemical formula C3H802. It’s made up of eight hydrogen atoms, three carbon atoms and two oxygen atoms (have I lost you yet?…) and is classified as ‘generally recognised as safe’ for ingestion.

Which is pretty handy, because PG seems to crop up in almost everything. Just check the ingredients in your shampoo, your toothpaste, the medicine in your bathroom cabinet or even the antifreeze in your shed! You might be surprised to know it’s also used as a humectant (or moisture preserver for us laymen!) in certain foods and tobacco products. PG is even reported to have anti-bacterial properties; the list goes on and on.

As well as a humectant, PG is also used as a general preservative, emulsifier and a solvent. It’s completely soluble in water and is often used as a delivery vehicle for topical lotions, creams etc. Certain medications also contain PG; serving as a way to help your body more efficiently absorb the drugs. In short, you have almost certainly used PG at some point prior to vaping.

Why do we use PG in e-liquid?


As we all know, the e-liquid we vape is commonly some mixture of Propylene Glycol (PG), Vegetable Glycerin (VG), flavourings and nicotine. VG typically provides the thick dense vapour ideal for those cloud chasers, whereas the PG is used to provide a ‘throat hit’ to simulate the feeling we get when smoking tobacco. PG is also a great flavour carrier, which is why it’s more common for flavourings and nicotine to have a PG base.

PG also has a thinner consistency than VG and is more easily absorbed by the wick in your coil. I’d tried vaping 100% VG when I first discovered PG was my kryptonite; easy enough on your standard RDA but ‘dry hit city’ on any of the many tanks I owned at the time! The thinning effect of adding PG to the mix also means you’re less likely to ‘gunk’ up your coil.

Personally speaking, I used to vape using a 50/50 mix of PG and VG. At the time, unaware of my intolerance to PG, this seemed like the perfect mix; great flavour and thick vapour. Alas, my body decided otherwise and symptoms of PG intolerance slowly began to appear.

What’s the difference between a PG intolerance and a PG allergy?


They’re spelt differently…

Just kidding.

A ‘true’ allergy is a reaction triggered by the immune system and is actually quite rare. The immune system will incorrectly perceive the PG as a threat and produce antibodies as a result. With repeated exposure, histamine and other bio-chemicals are released and it’s these that cause the allergy symptoms.

However, PG intolerance is thought to be relatively common. In fact, it’s estimated that 1 in 10 people will experience some type of reaction, however slight, to PG. And to further complicate things, the symptoms of a PG allergy are likely to present themselves in much the same way as an intolerance to PG.

However, because PG is found in so many different products, you’d likely be aware of a serious PG allergy well before taking your first vaping hit. As opposed to a PG intolerance, which is more likely to appear gradually over time with sustained use.

Symptoms of a PG intolerance


PG Intolerance Symptoms

So now we know what PG is, why we use it in our e-liquid and what the word humectant means… But how do you know if the symptoms you’re experiencing are due to a PG intolerance you ask? Well, the most common symptoms are as follows:

1. Skin irritation

For me, this was the biggest sign that something in my e-liquid was causing me problems. In fairness, vaping had always seemed to dry out my skin, but this was something different. A few months in I noticed the t-zone on my face was unusually dry and flaky. Thinking nothing of it, I used to smother my face in Vaseline and forget about it. However, by the time I’d hit the 12 month mark my chest and face were red, burning and itchy.

Naturally, it took a while to actually make the connection that PG was the culprit. But once I did, I switched to 100% VG e-liquid and voila! In the great words of Yoda; resemble a sunburnt tomato no more you will!

2. Upper respiratory tract irritation

This is a tricky one, because almost all new vapers are likely to experience some general throat irritation and dryness. This is due to one simple fact; tobacco smoke contains substances specifically designed to reduce throat and lung irritation and vapour does not. Inhaling anything will always cause some type of reaction and those new to vaping may have a sore throat for a few days/weeks.

However, if you experience a painfully sore throat which persists past these initial few weeks, it may indicate PG intolerance. This wasn’t something that ever bothered me much at the time to be honest. But if I use PG now, within a couple of hours I can feel the effects on my throat and upper chest.

For me, these were the two most obvious symptoms. However, a PG Intolerance may also present itself in the following ways:

·         Sinus problems

·         Nausea

·         Numbness of the face or tongue

·         Breakout of hives

·         Headaches

It’s important to note, those new to vaping may also experience many of these symptoms due to tobacco cessation. This is because nicotine creates a chemical dependency, which means your body has developed a need for that level of nicotine to be maintained.  If that need is not met, your body will start the process of withdrawal. The easiest way to differentiate between PG intolerance and tobacco cessation is to just stop vaping for a few days. If your symptoms disappear, it’s possible you were experiencing a reaction to the PG in your e-liquid.

So what’s the solution to vaping without PG?


Vape With Vegetable Glycerin If You Have A PG Intolerance

The most obvious choice is to switch to pre-made 100% VG e-liquid, which is exactly what I did to begin with. Back in the earlier days of vaping, high VG e-liquid was basically unheard of, with most vendors mixing at 80% PG. But over the last several years, as vaping has become more popular, more and more vendors are selling high VG, max VG and even PG alternative e-liquid.

It has to be said though; we VG enthusiasts are still trailing far behind our PG counterparts. In terms of availability and choice of flavours, not only is it far from balanced, it’s heavily weighted in favour of PG e-liquid. This is never more evident than at any of the UK vaping festivals. The team here at Vaping Hardware descend en masse on as many events as possible. And as much as I love spending time connecting with the vaping community, it’s always a disappointment to see the total lack of VG e-liquids available.

What other choice do I have?

The whole team here at Vaping Hardware prefer to mix our own e-liquid, for several reasons. Not only is it far cheaper than buying pre-made juice, but we all love experimenting with new mixes and flavours. There’s nothing quite like going full mad scientist, face mask, rubber gloves and optional maniacal laugh. However, the biggest hurdle in my anti PG journey was attempting to mix my own 100% VG e-liquid.

The first problem I had was finding VG based flavour concentrates. Only a very small handful of vendors seemed to supply it and more often than not the reviews were poor, citing issues with flavour strength. I also found many, if not all of these, turned out to be ‘organic’ or alcohol based flavourings. I did buy several of these flavours from a vendor in the US and while I found the flavour to be exceptional, the symptoms I’d experienced didn’t clear. So I can only assume that something in the concentrates didn’t agree with me. If you’re PG intolerant and have used these alcohol based flavourings with success, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

One of the few genuinely PG free vendors that stood out for me was www.justvape247.com  (who supplies the Kandi Hed VG range of concentrates) – purely due to their range of flavours and the reasonable price per bottle. I’ve ordered from them many times since and never been disappointed, although it has to be said, the flavour will not be as pronounced with VG based flavourings and you’ll need to use up to 25% flavour in your mix.

What else you’ll need to mix 100% VG e-liquid

Once you’ve sourced your VG based concentrates, you’ll need to buy your nicotine. For obvious reasons, this will have to be VG based and fortunately this isn’t as difficult to come by as the flavourings. A quick Google search will reveal plenty of vendors!

And last but not least, I would highly recommend you purchase some Aqueous Vegetable Glycerine (AVG). This is simply VG pre-mixed with 10% pharmaceutical grade distilled water. Pure VG is incredibly thick and just won’t wick properly in your chosen RTA/RBA. For me, AVG was the final piece of the anti-PG puzzle and altered the viscosity of the mix enough to make for the perfect DIY 100% VG e-liquid.

So there you have it folks, my PG intolerance story from start to finish. If you’ve been struck by PG intolerance as well then we hope this article has helped you. If there’s anything you’d like to add then feel free to comment below!

Image: By Roymishali (Own work) GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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Comments 14

  1. Yes, TY TY for this enlightenment! I thought I was alone. I’ve been vaping a couple years now and never had issues. But suddenly when something incredibly stressful happened in my life, I suddenly started getting hives on my lips. I noticed this happened mainly when I ate avocados (my kid is in fact allergic to avocado and latex, yes it’s a real thing lol) and assumed that was it. But now I get little hives frequently. I realized it must have something to do with the vaping liquid. Looked up PG allergy and found your blog. Voila it all makes sense now.

    I love vaping because it completely diminishes my need for cigs. But I believe I’m intolerant not allergic like yourself. However, I’ve never mixed my own vapes having only bought pods and pens so is it easy enough to buy and mix your own? I just have no idea and feel kinda silly asking in a smoke shop. Also, with the new flavor ban (which is ludicrous IMO) can you still buy fruity flavors to mix? I’m older and living proof flavored vapes aren’t just for kids!!!

    Again, thx for your insights. Hives, while annoying, aren’t life threatening with Zyrtec on hand but I should probably switch to non PG liquids just to be safe. As long as I can find a good vape device and good flavored mixes, I’d gladly learn to mix my own!

    Also thanks for the link to who you use now! 🙂

    K

    1. Hi Krissy,

      I’m so glad you like the post and thank you for the positive feedback 🙂 It can be so frustrating when the answer to one big problem (how to quit the cigarettes), just causes another big headache! I had a similar experience to you and didn’t notice any problems with PG until a year after I’d started vaping! Hopefully now you’ve identified the cause you can start to look at ways to vape without PG.

      After you’ve learned the basics, mixing your own e juice really is simple! We actually have a complete guide to mixing e juice that walks you through all the steps you need to know to get started. We’ll also be writing a guide soon on how to specifically mix 100% VG e juice so check back with us soon for that!

      As I’m based in the UK I can’t be certain, but I’m fairly sure that flavored e juice concentrates can still be purchased in the US. A quick google search for e juice flavor concentrates will give you plenty of options for where to buy them. Failing that, you can always buy them from the site I recommended in the post as they do offer international shipping.

      Hope this helps Krissy and any more questions feel free to get in touch 🙂 Good luck with mixing your own e juice!

  2. hi i have been vaping for 2 years but in august changed to a aramax power device and using 70/30 mix juice but 120ml bottles and i vape all day so i will use that bottle a week but started getting a few itchy hives and recently got swelling and red burning skin which the doctor said was histamine intolerance but not sure if from vape juice or food any info on this please doctor said its neither but I’m not sure could it be the amount i vape or would this not make a difference and the hives etc could be due to something else im on antihistamines at the moment thanks x

    1. Hi there,

      Thanks for the comment and sorry to hear you’re struggling. I know my own PG intolerance symptoms didn’t start to show until a year after I started vaping and at the time a histamine intolerance was one thing I considered. Obviously I’m no doctor but it might be worth you having a look at the ‘antihistamine diet’.

      If you suspect vaping may be the cause you could always stop for a week and see if your symptoms clear up. I did this myself and found the symptoms almost immediately started to disappear. It was then that I made the connection to PG intolerance and switched to 100% VG e-juice.

      Let us know how you get on!

    2. Well I have had to quit vaping all together, my skin is so bad the rash or hives a people are calling, where driving me crazy, so I thought I shall not vape for a couple of hours and see if this itching won’t be there well I vaped after 2 hours and the itching began so I gave it away immediately, omg I went to hell and back cause the rash which was there all the time cause people would say, ” have you been in the sun” when infact the PG was in my body and my skin was red on my chest and on my arms. so with haven given up for 4 weeks now and smoking again after 2 years of vaping the rash is very very slowly coming out of my body, the redness on my chest has gone and the redness on my arms have gone. But the rash just popping up on my arms and legs, and the only way I have stopped the itch that would keep me up allllll night is paw paw ointment has been an absolute godsend, it was only by looking through my box of tricks and after calamine lotion which was just making my itching work, I popped the paw paw on my arms and tried to sleep and then got up cause my arms weren’t itching so smothered my legs and for the first time in days I had comfort and slept and had to take a week off work cause I wasn’t sleeping, so please tell me how long will it take to feel normal and itch free. argh!!!!!

      Thanks

      Cora

      1. Hi Cora, sorry to hear you’ve had to quit vaping! Believe me I understand how bad the itching and skin rash from PG allergy/intolerance can be! Although it sounds like you’ve experienced a particularly bad reaction! Calamine lotion is great for relieving the itch but obviously it’s only a short term fix. I also found anti-histamine tablets helped with the itch slightly. What e-juice were you vaping though Cora? More specifically, what VG/PG ratio were you vaping? Reading your comment, am I right in thinking you were vaping for approximately two years before the symptoms started? I’m not a doctor and obviously can’t give medical advice but personally I was able to eliminate my symptoms by switching to VG only e-juice. I mix with AVG which is just VG thinned with distilled water and I vape heavily with no symptoms now! Give it a try and let us know how you get on! All the best

  3. I have PG intolerance too but mine displayed itself as something continually stuck in my throat (i.e. Globus Sensation). Truly horrible and frighting.

    My throat was also very sore, dry and itchy. I couldn’t even eat for 2 months until I realized it was my ejuice.

    I switched to 100% VG and all is good in the world now.

    1. Hi Randy, thanks for the comment. Sorry to hear you had such a bad reaction to PG in your e-juice! The symptom you described sounds awful!

      It sounds like it could have been an allergy to PG rather than a PG intolerance. It would be interesting to know if you experience any issues with PG in other products? Shampoo, deodorant etc.

      Vaping without PG seemed to solve the skin rash symptom for me thankfully!

    2. thank you for posting this. I went to the doctors yesterday because it felt like I had a golf ball lodged down my throat, he check me out and said your throat looks a little irritated but nothing seems like it’s swollen. never would have thought I’d develop a PG allergy, but your symptoms are basically what I have.

      1. Hi Gerard,

        The symptoms you and Randy describe sound like textbook PG allergy! Hope making the switch to 100% VG e-juice solves the problem for you! I know my own symptoms of PG intolerance immediately started to clear up after making the switch. I’ve been vaping 100% VG e-juice since and never looked back!

  4. Thanks for sharing this.Im a PG intolerant too. I decided to quit using vape because of these. Thanks for sharing info on how to vape without PG.

    1. Hi Jeremy, thanks for your comment. Sorry to hear you had to quit vaping! It’s something I considered myself before learning how to mix without PG. If you decide to start mixing max VG – our e-liquid calculator will help get you started. Good luck!

  5. Good info in your write up, i’d like to see more people talking about it. I too have some issue with pg and it kept me from sticking with the vape when i started 8 years ago but now that 80/20 mixes are popular its a great time to vape.

    1. Thanks Joe, appreciate the feedback. We’ve got a ‘PG vs VG’ post coming soon that you may find interesting! Happy Vaping!

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