This work contains a theoretical analysis of the optical properties of semiconductor quantum wells embedded in planar Fabry-Perot microcavities. In particular, the properties of the system in correspondence to the excitonic transition are studied by means of the polariton formalism. The polariton states in microcavities are derived and the polariton dispersion is presented. Particular emphasis is put on the existence of two well distinct regimes depending on the exciton and cavity parameters: strong coupling and weak coupling regime. The main experimental results are reviewed and compared with the prediction of the theory. After the polariton states have been characterized, the optical response of the system is discussed, with particular attention to the photoluminescence measurements. The polariton formation and relaxation through phonon scattering and the effect of the exciton inhomogeneous broadening are considered and, finally, a phenomenological model for the polariton photoluminescence spectra is presented.