In the present study, reconstructed human epidermis (RHE) was used as an in vitro model to discriminate 1-chloro-2,4-dinitrobenzene (DNCB), nickel sulfate (NiSO4), oxazolone (OXA), 2,4-dinitrofluorobenzene (DNFB) and 2,4,6-trinitrobenzenesulfonic acid (TNBS) as skin sensitizers from benzalkonium chloride (BC), benzoic acid (BA) and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) as skin irritants. Our criteria were (a) the differential IL-1α and IL-8 synthesis and release (b) cytotoxicity assessment by MTT assay. When the RHE are topically treated with the sensitizers, very low levels of extra- and intracellular IL-1α are observed although they induce significant cytotoxicity. In contrast, they exhibit a sharp maximum of IL-8 release. In the presence of the tested irritants, we observe the inverse cytokine release profile, although they induce dose-dependent cytotoxicity profiles similar to those observed with the sensitizers. Finally, IL-1α mRNA upregulation is observed after topical application of both sensitizers and irritants, but only the latter significantly increase extracellular IL-1α. In conclusion, our results suggest that the associated determination of IL-8, with IL-1α, and MTT conversion are at least necessary to discriminate and classify, in a single assay, irritant and sensitizing agents and represent a potential in vitro alternative to two classical in vivo assays.