Allergic contact dermatitis (ACD), one of the commonest occupational diseases, is a T-cell-mediated skin inflammation caused by repeated skin exposure to contact allergens, i.e. nonprotein chemicals called haptens. Allergic contact dermatitis, also referred to as contact hypersensitivity, is mediated by CD8+ T cells, which are primed in lymphoid organs during the sensitization phase and are recruited in the skin upon re-exposure to the hapten. Subsets of CD4+ T cells endowed with suppressive activity are responsible for both the down-regulation of eczema in allergic patients and the prevention of priming to haptens in nonallergic individuals. Therefore, ACD should be considered as a breakdown of the skin immune tolerance to haptens. Recent advances in the pathophysiology of ACD have demonstrated the important role of skin innate immunity in the sensitization process and have revisited the dogma that Langerhans cells are mandatory for CD8+ T-cell priming. They have also introduced mast cells as a pivotal actor in the magnitude of the inflammatory reaction. Finally, the most recent studies address the nature, the mode and the site of action of the regulatory T cells that control the skin inflammation with the aim of developing new strategies of tolerance induction in allergic patients.