Reepithelialisation is fundamental to wound healing, but our current understanding largely relies on cellular and animal studies. The aim of the present randomised double-blind three-arm controlled trial was to correlate genuine epidermal wound healing with key proteins and topical zinc treatment in humans. Sixty wounds were produced using deroofed suction blisters in 30 healthy volunteers and randomised to topical zinc sulphate (n = 20), placebo (n = 20), or control (n = 20) treatment for 4 days. All wounds with perilesional skin were processed for automatic immunostaining of paraffin tissue sections with monoclonal antibodies against Ki-67, metallothionein (MT) and matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-1. Protein expression was quantified by automated digital image analysis. Epidermal Ki-67 and MT labelling indices were increased in keratinocytes in the neoepidermis (∼1.1 mm) and at the wound edge (0.5 mm) compared to normal skin. Increased MMP-1 immunostaining was restricted to the neoepidermis. MT was robustly upregulated in the upper dermis of the wounds. Zinc treatment enhanced MMP-1 expression beneath the neoepidermis via paracrine mechanisms and MT under the neoepidermis and in the nonepithelialised wound bed via direct actions of zinc as indicated by the induction of MT2A mRNA but not MMP-1 mRNA in cultured normal human dermal fibroblasts by zinc sulphate. The present human study demonstrates that quantitative immunohistochemistry can identify proteins involved in reepithelialisation and actions of external compounds. Increased dermal MT expression may contribute to the anti-inflammatory activities of zinc and increased MMP-1 levels to promote keratinocyte migration.