Learn how to retouch skin professionally in Photoshop without making it look fake or blurry. In this Photoshop tutorial, you will learn how to reduce wrinkles and blemishes, airbrush skin naturally, dodge and burn, and more using all non-destructive editing techniques. Once you learn this, you can make everything from natural skin improvements to glamorous airbrushed skin used in advertising. To follow this tutorial, you’ll need Photoshop CS2 or newer.

Video Tutorial

Final Results

Before
Before Skin Airbrushing
After
After Skin Airbrushing
Skin Retouching Layers Diagram
Skin Retouching Layers Diagram

Step 1

Open the image that you want to edit. The photo should be high-res with a lot of skin details. For educational purposes, this tutorial will be shown using a photo with more dramatic skin flaws. We like to thank DepositPhotos.com for providing the stock photos used in this tutorial.


Image Credits: Natural portrait of a senior | Stock Photo © Sebastian Wahsner

Step 2

To begin, we’re going to start with a subtle skin retouching method that uses the Yellow channel to reduce skin flaws. Go to Image > Mode > CMYK. In the Channels panel, click on the Yellow channel. Copy this channel by pressing Ctrl/Cmd+A then Ctrl/Cmd+C.

Step 3

Undo the steps by pressing Ctrl+Shift+Z or Cmd+Option+Z on Macs until you’re back in RGB mode. Press Ctrl/Cmd+V to paste and the Yellow channel will appear as a new layer. Name this layer “Flaws”.

Step 4

Invert the layer by pressing Ctrl/Cmd+I then change the blending mode to Soft Light. Reduce the opacity until you get the results that you like. You can add a layer mask and erase the areas around the face if it is affecting the color/details of the surrounding areas. We don’t need to do this for our photo because the layer doesn’t affect the surrounding areas in any noticeable way.

Here’s the before and after of using the yellow channel to reduce skin flaws.

before

after

Step 5

Before we do any sort of airbrushing on the skin, we’re going to use the Spot Healing Brush to reduce wrinkles and blemishes. Select the Background layer then duplicate it by pressing Ctrl/Cmd+J. Move this layer to the top then rename it to “Wrinkles & Blemishes”.

Step 6

Use the Spot Healing Brush to erase the wrinkles and blemishes. Reduce the opacity of the layer to bring back some of the wrinkles and blemishes then position this layer below the Flaws layer.

We’re pretty much done and as you can see in this before and after preview, the skin looks a lot better than before.

Before
After

Step 7

If you’re happy with the results, you can stop here. But if you want to continue with some more dramatic skin retouching techniques, follow the rest of the tutorial to learn how to airbrush skin and reduce discoloration in the skin.

Before we proceed, convert all your layers into a single Smart Object. To do this, Hold Ctrl/Cmd and select all the layers. Right-click on the layers then choose “Convert to Smart Object”. This will save you time by letting you make changes to the faces at a later time without having to undo and redo everything. Rename this layer to Original.

 

Step 8

Duplicate the layer then rename it to “Smoothness”. With the Smoothness layer selected, go to Filter > Blur > Surface Blur. Set the Threshold to 255 levels then adjust the radius so that you can barely make out the face.

Reduce the Threshold until you can just start to make out the details. The skin should still be very blurry. Click OK to apply the filter.

63 thoughts on “How to Retouch and Airbrush Skin in Photoshop”

  1. Muhammad Faisal Ibrahim

    Hello

    I m trying to install photoshop and illustrator cs5… but when i click on install it says

    Windows cannot found
    C:users-AppDataLocalAdobeOOBEPDAppDECoreSetup.exe. Make sure you can typed the name correctly, and then try again.

    Any one can help me sort it out

    Regards

  2. I’m having a few problems.
    When you say:
    Go to Image > Mode > CMYK. In the Channels panel, click on the Yellow channel. Copy this channel by pressing Ctrl/Cmd+A then Ctrl/Cmd+C.

    I can do this and when you say to:
    Go to Image > Mode > CMYK. In the Channels panel, click on the Yellow channel.

    But I can not past the channel in layers.
    Copy this channel by pressing Ctrl/Cmd+A then Ctrl/Cmd+C.

    I’m using CS5, Mac Book Air. Can you help me with this?

  3. this is so cool. However when I follow step 2 and 3, after cmd v the new layer is exactly the same as the original layer. what am I doing wrong?

  4. I’m getting so annoyed of all these wannabe retouchers putting out tutorials and gimmick like tricks online. It’s all crap. You just need to use the basic tools and keep practicing. Most high end, WORKING, retouchers have never learned from these resources. Look at Bianca Carosio’s work for example, she’s self taught!!!! Just practice on your own terms people.

  5. Awesome tutorial. Seriously, I have seen quite a few and this one is easily the best. This is what a tutorial should look like.

  6. Hi, so i am fine on the first steps, but when it gets to the WRINKLES AND BLEMISHES layer, when i try to do this, wherever i click with the spot healing brush it makes it come up in a different colour?? Please help!

  7. So I’ve used your tutorial for my first ever try at Photoshop – I’m not new to photo editing but new to this program – so picked up most of what was in this tutorial. However, I went to edit a previous layer and it deleted all the layers after that one, and I can’t get them back. How do you ‘merge’ layers, so to speak? I think I have a long way to go with this program, or maybe actually need a ‘for Dummies’ book on this because I feel this tutorial is written for people that already know how to work the program in certain aspects. A little more detail on how to save would be good for people like me who are looking to move from Corel’s Paint Shop pro X5 Photoshop…

  8. having a problem with the airbrushing. after I group the details and smoothness layers and add a mask, I then selected a brush tool with opacity of 50%. the airbrushing is not working I see no adjustments at all. I went back and followed the steps again about three times and I am not getting any results. what am I doing wrong

    \

  9. having a a problem with the airbrushing- after i group the smoothness and details layers,add a layer mask and rename to airbrushing then i select the brush to airbrush the skin with a soft brush opacity 50% but I am not seeing any airbrushing. what am i doing wrong I completed all the previous steps as directed

  10. AWESOME video tutorial! Just one thing! When you say CTRL+C then CTRL+Z, they sound almost the same so you should use ZED instead of ZEE even if you are Amurrikaa

  11. Interesting tutorial thank you. What is the point of creating the flaws layer if you will be removing all the wrinkles and airbrushing later? Is it not redundant?

    1. As a follow beginner I have to ask you how the hell those something that’s end product looks fake be off any value?

  12. You cannot simplify the steps into a 10 minute video with shortcuts. High end retouching is an ART that takes years to master. I spend at least 2 hours per photo and I know that you cannot retouch it in 10 minutes. You might think that your doing the world a favor with this video, but you are only springing up more faux-retouchers who dilute the jobs and put the real beauty & fashion retouchers out of business.

    1. Sorry but I don’t think any “faux retouchers” can actually put you out of business. I know that sounds harsh but if you’re really that good, then you wouldn’t be effected by them.

    2. Hi I’m only starting to learn photoshop and can only do the basics of the basics for really slow and stup beginners. Enough of me I don’t know much but I can see from a mile away the end product looks fake so sorry but a quick short cut ten minute so called tutorial are useless if the end product looks fake. Btw I didn’t even try this tutorail because I want to learn about photoshopping that’s end product looks like the real deal and not supper doeper fake!

    3. I can only agree with you! This is, i’m sorry – but horrible. The goal within ‘high-end retouching’ is to make the skin look ‘perfect’, if there is such a thing.

      This tutorial (i didn’t even look thru it, saw the ‘result’ which was enough) isn’t going to help anyone.

      Using the old ‘Gaussian Blur’-retouch method would be adviced before using this tutorial, and the ‘Gaussian Blur’ method is somewhat.. bad.

      I’m not just going to complain, as it will serve no purpose at all. Instead, i wan’t to help you out, to become better.

      So, my advice, google for ‘Dodge and burn’. That’s the method we use when retouching for magazines or w/e.

      It takes time, just like Valen says. Some images can take more than 2 hours.

      If you are going to do it – do it right! =)

    4. In reply to Valen: I am a full-time professional fashion and editorial photographer and I agree with you that it is possible to spend hours on a photo. But you should not discredit this tutorial in that manner.

      I have read through this tutorial thoroughly and watched the video and I have nothing but compliments for the author. The video was outstanding and the author has the best voice and clear instructions. If the instructions are in question, then my suggestion is to try it out for yourself.

      I know many of these techniques already. It is the basic high and low pass retouching that “every” professional retouching artist use. They briefly go through dodging and burning too. But the video is fast-forwarded. I think they should teach more about dodging and burning but it is hard to describe because every photo is different.

      In reply to Nick: Your comment doesn’t make sense. Maybe you didn’t see the next page? The last photo on this page is blurry but it is not the final image. Click on Page 2 to see the results. There is “no” gaussian blur used here. Dodging and burning is taught here too. There is a Next Page button which you should click.

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