Nicotine Salts VS Freebase Nicotine - What's The Difference?

Nicotine Salt Freebase Nicotine Vape Juice

With the Juul now being the most popular vape on the market, nicotine salts are becoming more and more common as other manufacturers follow in Juul's footsteps. There's a lot of confusion about nicotine salts and how they differ from the nicotine most vapers are used to, so we're going to look at what the difference is and why it's worth knowing about nicotine salts.

Juul Vape
The Juul is a commonly misunderstood vape, due in no small part to the fact that they're so simple to use. The Juul pods come pre-filled, and up until recently they only had one nicotine option with the only real choice being the flavor of the vape juice that comes in the Juul pod.

Juul Packaging

The packaging is labeled as containing “5% nicotine by weight”, where most e-juice is measured in milligrams per milliliter, like 3mg or 18mg. If you were to turn those numbers into a percentage by volume, 3mg would be 0.3% and 18mg would be 1.8%. Most people think that this means the Juul is 50mg, but since the pods are 5% by weight instead of volume, this means they're actually about 59mg, or 5.9% by volume.
24mg Freebase and 50mg Nicotine Salt Vape Juice
That may sound like a ton of nicotine, but this is where knowing the difference between nicotine salts and the freebase nicotine that has been the standard in the vaping industry up until now becomes important. First and foremost, the nicotine content in nicotine salt is absorbed into your body differently than freebase nicotine, providing a spike in blood nicotine level (BNL) much like a cigarette, where freebase nicotine provides a lower, gentler curve in BNL. This low curve can be a foreign sensation to nicotine users, where nicotine salts provide a much more familiar sensation that typically requires no adjustment period.

Nicotine Salt VS Freebase Nicotine Blood Nicotine Level Graph
You can see here that nicotine salts provide a very similar nicotine profile to an average cigarette, where freebase nicotine provides more of a gentle curve

This difference in BNL absorption is due to the fact that freebase nicotine is just pure nicotine, where nicotine salt is the naturally occurring form of nicotine. The freebase nicotine that we use here at Vaporleaf is extracted from the naturally occurring nicotine salts found in tobacco leaves. Your body readily absorbs pure nicotine, but you don't really absorb much nicotine from nicotine salts.
Vaporleaf Vape Juice 120ml
Just a few bottles from our massive selection of Vaporleaf vape juice
In order to help your body absorb nicotine from nicotine salts, cigarette manufacturers will typically use ammonia. Obviously vaping ammonia would be less than ideal, so Juul put in the work and discovered that benzoic acid will also help your body absorb the nicotine from nicotine salts.

Juul Pod Ingredients
This is what Juul has to say about what's in their pods. You can find more at

Benzoic acid is already present in tobacco leaves along with the nicotine salts, but adding more helps your body absorb the nicotine. Juul chose the 5% nicotine by weight concentration because it most closely resembled the spike in BNL that you would get from a cigarette.
Pod Vapes

Aside from familiarity, there's one other very important feature of nicotine salt e-liquid that makes it much more approachable than freebase nicotine, and that's the fact that it's much smoother. The benzoic acid added to nicotine salts lowers the PH, allowing for a much higher nicotine concentration without the intense throat hit that accompanies high concentrations of freebase nicotine.
Vaporleaf 24mg Vape Juice
Discomfort is one of the biggest problems facing someone making the switch to vaping, and the smoother hit that nicotine salt vape juice provides allows more people to make the switch to vaping more easily. High concentrations of nicotine salt are quite comfortable, where even as much as 24mg of freebase nicotine can be downright painful.
Nicotine Salt Vape Juice
So are nicotine salts right for you? Well from what we've seen here at Vaporleaf, nicotine salts can be a great choice for people switching to vaping, but it can be foreign and uncomfortable for people that have already been vaping with freebase nicotine for a while.

Box Mod Vapes
These high-powered box mods are far too powerful for use with nicotine salts

If you've already made the switch to freebase nicotine and your body has become comfortable with it, using nicotine salts will provide an unusual nicotine buzz that can cause a lot of discomfort. If you vape frequently, using nicotine salts in the same way, puff after puff after puff, you can get too much nicotine very quickly and begin to feel queasy and lethargic.
Pear Vape Juice 120ml 12mg
My all day vape! I go through a 120ml of 12mg Pear about once a month, and it still hasn't gotten old to me

In my personal experience with nic salts, I also feel a little chest discomfort over time, and it leaves me with a bit of a strange taste in my mouth. Since I work at a vape shop, I vape constantly. The low curve in blood nicotine level that I get from freebase nicotine works great for me, but the high spike from nicotine salts becomes more of a constant super-high blood nicotine level.
Suorin Edge Pod Vape and GeekVape Legend with Aspire Revvo Vape Tank
The Suorin Edge is a great option for nicotine salts, but the GeekVape Legend with the Aspire Revvo is way too powerful

If you already vape and you're thinking about trying nicotine salts, remember that you absolutely must use a low-powered vape. Using high mg nicotine salts in a high-powered sub-ohm vape will quickly result in nicotine overdose and extreme discomfort. Pod systems like the Suorin Drop or the Nautilus AIO are the most popular choice for nicotine salts, but you can use them in any low-powered vape like the Kangertech Evod or the Aspire Nautilus vape tank.

Nicotine Warning

Most importantly, if you don't already use nicotine, don't start. Nicotine is highly addictive, and if you start using it, you will become addicted. I can tell you that having a nicotine addiction is not fun, and I'm one of those people that started smoking by just having a couple cigarettes every month or so, which turned into a full-blown 2-packs-a-day addiction. If you're dead set on picking up vaping, remember that you can get non-nicotine vape juice.

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  1. Very well put together post about this subject. I'm still not sure about the virtues of how they introduced nic salts at the outset. I'm still a firm follower of the MTL free based nicotine vape that helped me quit tobacco products finally. You get a satisfactory vape and don't burn through juice and coils. A win win. I also love the fact that vaping has something for everyone. So what works for me might not work for another but I believe anyone can find the right combo to quit tobacco for good.

    1. Thank you so much!
      From what I've read, PAX Labs (creator of the Juul) set out to create a vape that was more similar to smoking. I haven't been able to find much about their research, but it seems they discovered a way to use the same type of nicotine found in cigarettes (nicotine salts) in order to deliver a vaping experience that was more like smoking.
      I still prefer freebase nicotine myself, but I can't help but think I would've preferred nicotine salts when I was first switching to vaping.
      100% agree though, there's something out there for everybody!

  2. Would something like endura t18 work for nic salts?

    1. Certainly! Just about anything that's not sub-ohm will work with nicotine salts, and the Endura uses a 1.5 ohm coil that fires at about 14 watts.

      The reason some devices aren't recommended for use with nicotine salts is the fact that nicotine salts typically contain a pretty high amount of nicotine. Since more powerful vapes will vaporize more vape juice per puff, you end up getting more nicotine per puff. So 50mg might be okay in something that fires at 14 watts, but it would be extremely overpowering in something that fires at 75 watts.

      A good rule of thumb is if it doesn't produce huge clouds and it uses a coil that's 1.0 ohm or higher, it's probably okay to use nicotine salts!