How to Retouch and Airbrush Skin in Photoshop

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.

60 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.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top

Join Our V.I.P. Mailing List!

Subscribe and get the latest Photoshop tutorials, tips, and more via email. As a way of saying thanks, you'll also receive a free copy of AI Double Exposure Photoshop Actions ($14 retail value).