Beauty supply giant Dove has apologized and said it "missed the mark in representing women of color thoughtfully," after it released a Facebook advertisement many social media users deemed racially insensitive.

The ad, posted on Friday, featured an African-American woman in a brown shirt taking off her top to reveal a white woman in a light-coloured shirt. Another image showed a white woman removing her shirt, revealing a woman who appeared to be of Asian descent.

On Saturday, Dove, which is owned by Dutch-British consumer goods company Unilever, released a statement via its official Twitter account, apologizing for the advertisement.

"An image we recently posted on Facebook missed the mark in representing women of color thoughtfully," the statement read. "We deeply regret the offense it caused."

After the soap company removed the ad, it issued an apology on Facebook, saying that the feedback it received will be considered in subsequent advertisements  

"Dove is committed to representing the beauty of diversity. In an image we posted this week, we missed the mark in thoughtfully representing women of color and we deeply regret the offense that it has caused. The feedback that has been shared is important to us and we’ll use it to guide us in the future," the statement read.

Despite having apologized and removed the ad, Dove set the internet ablaze. After the advertisement sparked a debate about racial sensitivity, many took to social media and chastised the beauty brand, even threatening to stop purchasing its products.

Some users suggested that the company had a history of racially insensitive advertisements.  

Screenshots of the advertisement were circulated by American makeup artist Naomi Leann Blake, which went viral and was re-posted over a thousand times on Facebook and Twitter.

"So I'm scrolling through Facebook and this is the #dove ad that comes up.... ok so what am I looking at," she captioned the photo.

Some Facebook users seemed to be spilt on the subject.

"This is gross. You think people of color can just wash away their melanin and become white? What were you going for, exactly? Your creative director should be fired," Angela Reinders wrote on Facebook.

"I think they meant it's for all skin types... it went from black to white to another race," said one Facebook user.

"The third woman is definitely not white but this was a bad deliverance of the message that all can use the soap," posted another.

This isn’t the first time Dove received backlash after releasing ads deemed racially insensitive. In 2011, an ad sparked controversy after it showed three women with different skin tones in front of a wall marked "before and "after."

The woman in front of the "before" section had a darker skin tone, the woman in the middle was slightly lighter and the woman in front of the "after" sign was white. After the ad received criticism, Dove released a statement looking to clarify its objective.

"The ad is intended to illustrate the benefits of using Dove VisibleCare Body Wash, by making skin visibly more beautiful in just one week. All three women are intended to demonstrate the "after" product benefit. We do not condone any activity or imagery that intentionally insults any audience," the statement read.