Allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) and contact hypersensitivity (CHS) are delayed-type hypersensitivity reactions which are mediated by hapten specific T cells. During the sensitisation phases, both CD4+ and CD8+ T cell precursors are activated in the draining lymph nodes by presentation of haptenated peptides by skin dendritic cells. Subsequent hapten skin painting induces the recruitment of T cells at the site of challenge which induces inflammatory signals and apoptosis of epidermal cells, leading to the development of a skin inflammatory infiltrate and of clinical symptoms. There have been major controversies on the respective roles of CD4+ and CD8+ T cells in the development of the CHS inflammatory reaction. Experimental studies from the last 10 years have demonstrated that, in normal CHS responses to strong haptens, CD8+ type 1 T cells are effector cells of CHS while CD4+ T cells are endowed with down-regulatory functions. The latter may correspond to the recently described CD4+ CD25+ regulatory T cell population. However, in some instances, especially those where there is a deficient CD8 T cell pool, CD4+ T cells can be effector cells of CHS. Ongoing studies will have to confirm that the pathophysiology of human ACD is similar to the mouse CHS and that the CHS response to weak haptens, the most frequently involved in human ACD, is similar to that reported for strong haptens.