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Tea tree oil is the most sought-after natural oil because of its diverse pharmacological actions. It is widely used as a superficial antiseptic because of its broad-spectrum antimicrobial action. However, the oil is volatile and direct application on the skin can cause severe erythema. The present work aims to overcome this issue by developing topical gels loaded with tea tree oil nanosponges. Tea tree oil was encapsulated into nanosponges by emulsion solvent evaporation using varying concentrations of polyvinyl alcohol and ethyl cellulose. The nanosponges formed were subsequently characterized for its size and drug entrapment and then loaded into carbopol 934 gels for convenient administration. The viscosity, pH, spreadability, extrudability, ex vivo permeation, skin irritation potential and antimicrobial activity of the gels were tested. The nanosponge formulations exhibited particle size in the range 307.8 -394.4 nm with an oil entrapment efficiency ranging from 62.40% - 89.50%. Scanning Electron Microscopy of nanosponges demonstrated the presence of nano sized pleomorphic particles with spongy surface. pH of the gels ranged between 6.37±0.11 to 6.45±0.21 and spreadability between 3.60±0.15 to 4.28±0.11 The gels extruded easily and uniformly from the collapsible tubes. The antimicrobial activity and in vivo skin-irritation studies confirmed the non-irritant nature of the gel along with its antifungal and antibacterial activity. The study demonstrated that showed that the encapsulation of tea tree oil within nanosponges helped in the prevention of side effects associated with the use of pure tea tree oil.

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