Contact sensitivity responses require both effective immune sensitization following cutaneous exposure to chemical haptens and antigen-specific elicitation of inflammation upon subsequent hapten challenge. We have observed that that antigen-independent effects of immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies promote immune sensitization to haptens in the skin. Contact sensitivity is markedly impaired in IgE-/- mice but can be restored by either transfer of sensitized cells from wild-type mice or administration of hapten-irrelevant IgE before sensitization. Moreover, IgE-/- mice exhibit impairment in the emigration of dendritic cells from the epidermis after hapten exposure. Monomeric IgE has been reported to influence mast cell function. We observe diminished contact sensitivity in mice lacking FcεRI or mast cells, and mRNA for several mast cell-associated genes is reduced in IgE-/- vs. wild-type skin after hapten exposure. We propose that levels of IgE normally present in mice favour immune sensitization via antigen-independent effects on mast cells.