Keep reading before you start defending your beloved bar of soap.
The pH of healthy skin is between 4.5 and 5.5. Traditional soap is generally at about a 9, which is far too alkaline. Even "pH balanced" soaps, including Dove, are generally at a 7, which is neutral, but still too alkaline to be truly good for skin.
When you use an alkaline product on skin, it changes the pH, damaging the acid mantle that protects the skin from damage. It's like stripping the paint and primer off of a lamp post and then wondering why it rusts.
Most traditional heavily fragranced soaps (I'm looking at you, Irish Spring) are terribly drying on skin, and many people who use the old fashioned, traditional soap-and-water routine don't moisturize afterwards, making the oil stripping qualities of these soaps even more harmful, since the skin is left raw to the elements. Aside from dyes and extra fragrances, Dove soap is very similar to traditional (terrible) soap.
Because of clever marketing and "1/4 moisturizer!" claims, Dove soap is commonly viewed as a gentle moisturizing cleansing bar. People without a background or education in skin care love to recommend the fragrance free version of Dove soap to people with skin issues, usually adding on, "It's so gentle!" or "My skin is so sensitive, it's the only thing that works!" or "My doctor/dermatologist recommended it!" or "My mom/aunt/grandma has used it her whole life and her skin is great!"
Let's step back from the emotional attachment many people have with this bar and take a look at the facts: the ingredients. You'll notice that the only differences between these bars is that the white bar contains fragrance and the sensitive skin bar contains maltol. They are literally the same bar of soap with a "flavor enhancer" instead of fragrance in different packaging.
White Bar: Sodium Lauroyl Isethionate , Stearic Acid , Sodium Tallowate or Sodium Palmitate , Lauric Acid , Sodium Isethionate , Water , Sodium Stearate , Cocamidopropyl Betaine or Sodium C14-C16 Olefin Sulfonate , Sodium Cocoate or Sodium Palm Kernelate , Fragrance , Sodium Chloride , Tetrasodium EDTA , Tetrasodium Etidronate , Titanium Dioxide
Sensitive Skin Bar: Sodium Lauroyl Isethionate , Stearic Acid , Sodium Tallowate or Sodium Palmitate , Lauric Acid , Sodium Isethionate , Water , Sodium Stearate , Cocamidopropyl Betaine or Sodium C14-C16 Olefin Sulfonate , Sodium Cocoate or Sodium Palm Kernelate , Sodium Chloride , Tetrasodium EDTA , Tetrasodium Etidronate , Maltol , Titanium Dioxide
The flavor text on the sensitive skin bar makes quite the claims.
"Beauty bar, hypo-allergenic, fragrance free. 1/4 moisturizing cream. Dove knows that sensitive skin demands a totally different kind of care. With that in mind, this isn't just another bar soap stripped down to nothing and parading as sensitive. It's a specially formulated beauty bar with a hypo-allergenic, fragrance free formula tested with dermatologist to give your sensitive skin the special attention it deserves."
If Dove knows that sensitive skin demands a totally different kind of care, which it does, why is this bar almost exactly the same as the other bar? No, it's not a bar soap stripped down to nothing, because some of these ingredients can be irritants, and should have been taken out. Even on balanced, healthy skin, these bars are not gentle cleansers.
Sensitive skin, acne and eczema need more than a bar of soap that's labelled "fragrance free" and "hypoallergenic". It needs calming, hydrating ingredients and very gentle cleansing, not stripping detergents. It's entertaining that the phrase "parading as sensitive" is used, because that's exactly what Dove is doing with this bar.
Sodium Lauroyl Isethionate, the first ingredient in both bars, is a detergent and emulsifier. It dries out skin and has no beneficial properties for the skin. When this synthetic chemical is handled in labs, it requires safety goggles and gloves to be handled.
Stearic Acid is a fatty acid that acts as an emollient and thickener, and is a good ingredient, if it wasn't counteracted with the other ingredients.
Sodium Tallowate or Sodium Palmitate are traditional waxy soaps that bind to oil and dirt and wash them away. These ingredients are very outdated. Now that the science of skin is advancing, we understand that pulling out all of the oils in the skin does far more harm than good.
Lauric Acid is a great cleansing ingredient that has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. This would be great if it wasn't combined with detergent and tallow.
Sodium Isethionate is another detergent that is an eye irritant in high doses.
Water is water is water.
Sodium Stearate is another traditional soap ingredient that strips the skin of all of its oils.
Cocamidopropyl Betaine is a synthetic surfactant which strips oils from your skin and in high concentrations is a skin irritant.
Sodium Cocoate or Sodium Palm Kernelate are also common soap ingredients that strip skin of oil, making it irritating.
Sodium Chloride is common table salt, which is used as a binding agent.
Tetrasodium EDTA and Tetrasodium Etidronate are chelating agents and preservatives that can irritate skin conditions, particularly eczema. Depending on who you ask, they are either safe or carcinogenic.
Maltol isn't technically a fragrance... it's a "flavor enhancer" that is used for adding sweetness to foods.
Titanium Dioxide is a great sunscreen but has no use in a rinse-off product.
Other than Lauric Acid, Stearic Acid, salt, and water, I don't want any of these ingredients in my cleanser. The only good thing I can say about this bar is that at least it isn't as bad as Apricot Scrub or Proactiv.
Start reading ingredients and look for water/oil emulsions that don't use any sort of sulfates, tallow, wax or alcohol, filled with botanical ingredients. It's doubtful you'll be able to find one at a drugstore.
The next time someone recommends this bar of soap, ask them if they know the ingredients and what they do. Ask them if they know the difference between the white bar and sensitive bar. Ask them if they have studied the pH scale and know the effects that alkaline products have on skin. Ask them how long they have studied skin and its properties. Their answers- or lack of answers- might surprise you.