How to Retouch and Airbrush Skin in Photoshop

Step 9

Duplicate the Original layer then move it to the top. Name this layer “Details”. This layer will be used to restore the details lost in the Smoothness layer.

Step 10

Go to Filter > Other > High Pass. Adjust the radius setting until you can barely bring back the details.

Step 11

Change the blending mode of this layer to Linear Light. The skin looks cleaner, but it looks overly airbrushed and has a fake plastic look to it. This may work well for younger subjects with fair skin, but for skin with more complexions, you’ll have to reduce this for it to look realistic. Here’s what the airbrushing looks like before and after.


Step 12

Now we’re going to mask out the color. Select the Details and Smoothness layer then press Ctrl/Cmd+G to group them. Rename this group to Airbrushing.

Step 13

Add an inverted layer mask to the group by holding Alt/Option and clicking on the Add Layer Mask button in the Layers panel or by going to Layer > Layer Mask > Hide All.

Make sure your foreground color is set to white then select the Brush tool. Using a soft round brush with an opacity of 50%, paint around the skin areas. Adjust the opacity of the group to fine tune the amount of airbrushing applied to your photo.

Step 14

Select the Eye Dropper tool then sample a color from the skin that you want to colorize the skin towards. Make sure that your eyedropper tool is sampling all the layers. Collapse the Airbrushing group then add a new Solid Color adjustment layer from your Layers panel or by going to Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color. It should have your foreground color automatically selected. Click OK. Change the blending mode of this layer to Color.


Step 15

In the layers panel, click on the layer mask then invert it by pressing Ctrl/Cmd+I.

Use your brush tool and start painting around the skin areas to equalize the skin colors. Adjust the opacity to fine tune this layer. When you’re done, rename the layer to Skin Color

Step 16

Next, we’re going to add a dodging and burning layer. For this step, we’ll be using another photo to better show you what you can achieve with this effect. This photo already has the previous steps applied.

Create a new layer then rename this layer to “Dodging & Burning”. Set the blending mode of this layer to Soft Light.

Step 17

Fill the layer with 50% gray. To do this, go to Edit > Fill and set the contents to 50% gray. Click OK.

Step 18

Select the burn tool and set the Range setting in the options bar to Midtones and exposure to 50% or less. Paint over the areas that you want to darken. To lighten, use the Dodge tool. Make sure that the Range setting is set to Midtones then start painting over the areas that you want to lighten. When you’re done with the dodging and burning, you can increase the strength by going to Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast.  Checkmark the “Use Legacy” option then adjust the contrast to get the effect that you like. You can also reduce the opacity of your Dodging and Burning layer to reduce the effect.

Here’s what the image looks like before and after dodging and burning. Dodging and burning can be used to emphasize bones and muscles, make eyes more luminous, lips fuller, and much more without warping the face.

Step 19

Because we used non-destructive editing techniques (Smart Filters, Layer Masks, etc.), you can go back into any of the layers to fine tune the settings. See the diagram below for the layers that you can edit (click to enlarge).

Skin Retouching Layers Diagram

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

  1. Muhammad Faisal Ibrahim


    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


  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.

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