In this tutorial, I will show you how to improve your portraits by giving your subject beautifully smooth skin with Photoshop! We will start learning how to remove pimples and other minor skin imperfections with the Photoshop Point Correction Brush. Then, after the initial cleaning, we will learn step by step how to soften and soften the skin without blurring important details, such as eyes, hair, etc. of the person, and maintaining the best possible skin texture.
To follow, you can use any portrait photo. I will use this image that I downloaded from Adobe Stock:
A close-up of a woman’s skin before smoothing and retouching
A close-up of the original.
And this is how it will look after smoothing and softening your skin:
How to smooth the skin in Photoshop
I am using Photoshop CC but this tutorial is fully compatible with Photoshop CS6 and earlier versions.
Lets Get Started !
Step 1: make a copy of the image
With the image just opened in Photoshop, the Layers panel shows the photo in the background layer. Before smoothing the skin, start by removing unwanted imperfections. To protect the original image, you will want to work on a separate layer. Make a copy of the background layer by pressing and holding the Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key on your keyboard, clicking on the background layer and dragging it to the New layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel:
Duplicate the background layer in the Layers panel in Photoshop
In the Duplicate Layer dialog box, name the layer “Point healing” and then click OK:
Name the duplicate layer ‘Point healing’
Naming the “Point healing” layer.
A copy of the image appears in a new layer called “Point healing” on the original:
The image has been copied to a new layer called Spot Healing
The initial skin cleansing will now be done in a separate layer.
Step 2: select the point healing brush
Select the Point Corrector Brush from the toolbar:
Select the Point Corrector Brush from the toolbar in Photoshop
Selection of the point healing brush.
Step 3: set the Point Corrector Brush to “Content-Aware”
Make sure that the Type option in the options bar is set for Content-Aware:
Set the Point Corrector Brush to Content in the options bar
Content-Aware must be selected by default.
Step 4: click on skin imperfections to remove them
Click on unwanted skin imperfections with the Point Corrector Brush to remove them. Photoshop will instantly “cure” imperfections by replacing the texture of the problem with a good skin texture of the surrounding area. For best results, make your brush a little bigger than the stain. To change the size of your brush, press the right bracket key (]) on your keyboard to enlarge the brush or the left bracket key ([) to make it smaller. If the stain has not completely disappeared on the first attempt, undo your click by pressing Ctrl + Z (Win) / Command + Z (Mac) on your keyboard, then resize your brush if necessary and click on it stain to try again.
Example: removal of skin imperfections with the spot healing brush
If we look at the woman’s forehead in my image, we see what looks like a large grain just to the right of the center. I will place the spot corrective brush on it and make my brush a little bigger than the shin itself:
Place the spot corrective brush on a skin spot to remove it
Placing the Point Healing Brush on a skin spot.
To remove the stain, I will click with the spot correction brush. Photoshop analyzes the area I clicked on, finds a good texture of the skin of the surrounding area and then combines the good texture with the tone and the original color of the problem area. Like magic, the stain is gone:
Clicking with the spot correction brush to remove the skin stain
Clicking to heal the stain.
I will do the same with another spot on your forehead, keeping the Point Healing Brush slightly larger than the area I need to heal:
Position the spot correction brush on a second skin spot to cure it
Position the spot correction brush on a second stain.
I will click on the stain and, once again, Photoshop will remove it instantly:
The second skin spot disappears after clicking with the Haling Spot Brush
The second stain is gone.
After a few more clicks with the Point Corrector Brush to clean the remaining spots on your forehead, your skin looks much softer:
Remove imperfections, not features
While retouching the skin, keep in mind that while it is okay to eliminate temporary problems such as acne or other minor skin problems, it is generally not right to eliminate permanent features such as moles or even certain scars, since these are part of what you do that someone who they are. After all, the goal of image retouching is to help people look their best, not make them look like someone else.
Completing the initial skin cleansing
Continue working around the person’s face to remove any remaining stains. Here is a side-by-side comparison of the original appearance of the woman’s skin (left) and after some quick touch-ups with the spot correction brush (right). With most photos, this initial skin cleansing should not take more than a few minutes. I quickly covered the Spot Corrector Brush here, but you can get more information about it in my tutorial on how to remove acne and skin imperfections with the Spot Corrector Brush:
Step 5: Make a copy of the “timely cure” layer
With imperfections removed, we are ready to soften and soften the skin, and again, it is better to work in a separate layer. Back in the Layers panel, make a copy of the “Point healing” layer by pressing and holding the Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key on your keyboard, clicking on the “Point healing” layer and dragging it down New layer icon:
In the Duplicate Layer dialog box, name the layer “Smooth Skin” and then click OK:
Naming the new layer ‘Smooth Skin’ in Photoshop
Naming the duplicate layer “Smooth Skin”.
We now have the original image on the Background layer, the initial skin cleanup on the “Spot Healing” layer, and a new “Smooth Skin” layer above them:
The original image, the Spot Healing layer and the Smooth Skin layer in the Layers panel in Photoshop
The “Smooth Skin” layer appears above the “Spot Healing” layer.
Step 6: Apply The High Pass Filter
To smooth the skin, we’ll use Photoshop’s High Pass filter. Go up to the Filter menu in the Menu Bar, choose Other, and then choose High Pass:
Selecting the High Pass filter from under the Filter menu in Photoshop
Going to Filter> Other> High Pass.
Why The High Pass Filter Is Great For Smoothing Skin
If you’re familiar with the High Pass filter, it’s most likely because you’ve used it to sharpen images in Photoshop. Even though we’ll be using High Pass to smooth skin, not sharpen it, many of the steps are the same. The High Pass filter looks for edges in the image and highlights them. An edge is an area where there’s a big, sudden change in brightness or color between neighboring pixels. With portrait photos, the edges are usually along the person’s hair, around the eyes, the mouth, and so on. Skin texture, on the other hand, has relatively low amounts of detail with much smoother transitions. These areas are not considered an edge, so rather than highlighting them, the High Pass filter fills these areas with neutral gray.
If we were sharpening the image, the High Pass filter would allow us to sharpen the edges (the details) without affecting the skin. But for smoothing skin, we use High Pass for the opposite reason. We’ll detect the edges not so we can sharpen them but so we can smooth and soften everything except the edges. Let’s see how it works.
The Radius Value
The High Pass filter detects edges and highlights them, and the Radius option at the bottom of the High Pass dialog box controls the “thickness” of the edge highlighting. In other words, once Photoshop has detected an edge, the Radius value tells it how many pixels on either side of it to include as part of the edge. Low Radius values will highlight only the finest details in the image. But to make sure we don’t end up softening these important details, we need to highlight the areas around them as well, which means we need a larger Radius value. For a typical portrait shot, a radius of 24 pixels works well:
Setting the High Pass filter Radius value to 24 pixels in Photoshop
Setting the Radius value to 24 pixels.
If your subject is further back in the photo, or you’re working on a lower resolution image, a smaller Radius value of 18 pixels or even 12 pixels might work better. Why these specific values? It’s because it’s important for the next step that you choose a Radius value that’s easily divisible by 3. For example, 24 divided by 3 is 8, 18 divided by 3 is 6, and 12 divided by 3 is 4. Nice, easy numbers. Again, we’ll see why in the next step.
Click OK to close the High Pass dialog box. Your image will turn mostly gray. Solid areas of gray are the non-edge areas with little to no detail, like the skin, while large, high contrast halos highlight the edges:
The image after applying Photoshop’s High Pass filter to detect the edges
The result after applying the High Pass filter.
Step 7: Apply The Gaussian Blur Filter
We need to blur the High Pass filter effect. It may seem counterintuitive, but the blurring will actually help to bring out more good texture in the skin. Go up to the Filter menu, choose Blur, and then choose Gaussian Blur:
Choosing the Gaussian Blur filter from under the Filter menu
Going to Filter> Blur> Gaussian Blur.
In the Gaussian Blur dialog box, set the Radius value to exactly one third of the value you used for the High Pass filter. In my case, I set the High Pass radius to 24 pixels, so I’ll set the Gaussian Blur radius to one third of that, which is 8 pixels. Click OK to close the dialog box:
The Gaussian Blur dialog box
Setting the Gaussian Blur radius to one third of the High Pass radius.
With the blurring applied, the High Pass effect now looks softer and less detailed:
The result after applying the Gaussian Blur filter
The result after applying the Gaussian Blur filter.
Step 8: Change The Layer Blend Mode To Linear Light
In the Layers panel, change the blend mode of the “Smooth Skin” layer from Normal to Linear Light:
Changing the blend mode of the Smooth Skin layer to Linear Light
Changing the layer blend mode.
This blends the High Pass result in with the image, creating a high contrast, over-sharpened effect. It may look terrible, but don’t worry. It will look even worse in a moment:
The image after changing the Smooth Skin layer blend mode to Linear Light
The image after changing the Smooth Skin layer’s blend mode to Linear Light.
Step 9: invert the layer
Go to the Image menu, choose Settings and then choose Reverse:
Choose the Invert command from below the Image menu.
Go to Image> Adjustments> Invert.
With the inverted layer, the image goes from being too sharp to looking like a strange and blurry mess with big ugly halos around everything:
Step 10: open the merge options
To reduce the halo effect, click on the Layer Styles icon at the bottom of the Layers panel:
Step 10: Open The Blending Options
To reduce the halo effect, click the Layer Styles icon at the bottom of the Layers panel:
Choose Blending Options from the top of the list:
Step 11: Drag The “Blend If” Sliders
In the Layer Style dialog box, look for the Blend If sliders at the bottom. There are two sets of sliders, one labeled “This Layer” and one below it labeled “Underlying Layer”. We need the top sliders (the ones labeled “This Layer”):
Notice the slider below each end of the gradient bar. These sliders control how the “Smooth Skin” layer blends with the image below it based on the brightness levels of the layer. The slider on the left is used to blend the darker areas of the layer and the slider on the right blends the lighter areas:
Reducing The Light Halos
Start by reducing the lighter halos. Press and hold the Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key on your keyboard, click the slider on the right and begin dragging it towards the left. Holding the Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key tells Photoshop to split the slider in half so that as you’re dragging, only the left side of the slider moves while the right side stays in place. Watch your image as you drag the slider and you’ll see the lighter halos fading away. Drag the slider almost all the way to the left to reduce them as much as possible:
Here’s the result after dragging the first slider. Most of the lighter halos are now gone, or at least, they’re much less noticeable. Only the darker halos remain:
Reducing The Dark Halos
To reduce the darker halos, press and hold your Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key, click the slider on the left and drag the right half of it towards the right. Again, you’ll need to drag almost all the way to the right for most of the dark halos to disappear. Click OK when you’re done to close the Layer Style dialog box:
And here’s my image after dragging both sliders. Her skin is looking very smooth, but so is everything else in the image. We’ll fix that next:
Step 12: Add A Layer Mask
To limit the smoothing effect to just the skin, add a layer mask. Back in the Layers panel, press and hold the Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key on your keyboard and click the Add Layer Mask icon:
A black-filled layer mask thumbnail appears on the “Smooth Skin” layer. This hides the smoothing effect from view so we can paint it back in only where we need it:
Related: Understanding Layer Masks in Photoshop
Step 13: Select The Brush Tool
Select the Brush Tool from the Toolbar:
Step 14: Set Your Brush Color To White
Make sure your Foreground color (the brush color) is set to white. You can see your current Foreground and Background colors in the color swatches near the bottom of the Toolbar. The swatch in the upper left is the Foreground color. If it’s not set to white, press the letter D on your keyboard to quickly reset the colors to their defaults:
Step 15: Paint Over The Skin
Before you begin painting, check your brush options in the Options Bar. Make sure that Mode (short for Blend Mode) is set to Normal, Opacity is at 100% and Flow is also at 100%:
Then paint over the skin to reveal the smoothing effect. A soft-edge brush will work best. We already know that we can change the brush size from the keyboard using the left and right bracket keys. Add the Shift key to change the brush hardness. Press Shift and the left bracket key to make the brush softer, or Shift and the right bracket key to make the brush harder.
Example: Painting To Reveal The Smooth Skin
I’ll start by painting over her forehead. Since we’re painting on the layer mask, not on the layer itself, we don’t see the brush color as we paint. Instead, we reveal the smoothing effect in the areas where we’ve painted:
Next, I’ll paint over her nose, her cheeks, and around her eyes to reveal the skin smoothing in those areas. Adjust your brush size as you go to avoid painting over details that should remain sharp. If you do slip and paint over the wrong area, press the letter X on your keyboard to set your brush color to black, and then paint over the mistake to hide the smoothing effect. Press X again to set your brush color back to white and continue painting to smooth and soften the skin:
Finally, I’ll paint around her mouth and over her chin to smooth and soften those areas, while at the same time being careful to avoid her lips:
Viewing The Layer Mask
To see exactly where you’ve painted, press and hold your Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key and click on the layer mask thumbnail in the Layers panel:
This switches your view from the image to the layer mask. The white areas in the mask are where you’ve painted to restore the skin smoothing. Black areas are when the smoothing effect remains hidden. It looks a bit creepy, but viewing the mask is a great way to make sure you haven’t missed any spots, and you can paint directly on the mask if needed. To switch back to your image, once again press and hold Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) and click on the layer mask thumbnail:
Step 16: Lower The Layer Opacity
At this point, we’ve smoothed and softened the skin, but the effect is too intense. To reduce it, lower the opacity of the “Smooth Skin” layer. In general, an opacity value of between 40% and 60% works best, but it will depend on your image. I’ll set mine to 50%:
And with that, we’re done! Here, after lowering the layer opacity, is my final result with her skin now looking great:
And there we have it! That’s how to easily smooth and soften skin in Photoshop!