The skin epithelium covers our body and serves as a vital interface with the external environment. Here, we review the context-specific interactions between immune cells and the epithelium that underlie barrier fitness and function. We highlight the mechanisms by which these two systems engage each other and how immune–epithelial interactions are tuned by microbial and inflammatory stimuli. Epithelial homeostasis relies on a delicate balance of immune surveillance and tolerance, breakdown of which results in disease. In addition to their canonical immune functions, resident and recruited immune cells also supply the epithelium with instructive signals to promote repair. Decoding the dialogue between immunity and the epithelium therefore has great potential for boosting barrier function or mitigating inflammatory epithelial diseases.