Getting beautiful skin that is also realistic and preserves natural skin texture is a portrait retoucher’s holy grail. Expertly applied makeup and good lighting are the foundation for beautiful skin, but Photoshop skin retouching is the polish.  There is more than one-way to reach a result, and I will show the main steps of our beauty retouching processes, from exporting images from a RAW Converter to polishing them up before publishing.

Photoshop Skin Retouching Workflow   Before-After

After Image | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow
Before Image | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow
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1. Creating the Base Image for Photoshop Skin Retouching

 We start our retouching by cropping, correcting exposure and colors in a RAW Converter (Lightroom or Camera Raw) and export several PSD format files, exposing darkest and brightest areas of the skin to ensure we get the all information out of the image.RAW Convertor | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

PixaFOTO  |  Photoshop Skin Retouching Workflow


 When we have a few PSD versions of the image, we use File > Scripts > Load Files Into Stacks in Photoshop to open all copies in one PSD file.  Next, we place the best exposed layer at the bottom of the stack, cover the rest of the layers with black layer masks (MAC: Option+Add layer mask  •  Win: Alt+Add layer mask), and then paint with a white soft brush  (Shift+B)  over the correctly exposed areas.Load Files | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

Settings   •The Brush tool:   Normal Mode; 100% Flow; 5-15% Hardness; 0-20% Opacity.

Technique  Paint with a white soft brush over the well exposed areas to reveal them on each of the top layers.  If you mess up something, just take a soft black simple brush, and it will act as an eraser.  Brush out anything you don’t want. You can also adjust the opacity of each top layer to achieve a desired look.


 We flatten the final image, using Layer > Flatten Image.  It is now our background layer, the starting point for the Photoshop retouching.



2. Local Corrections

 We always make a few Local Corrections on the initial stages of the Photoshop retouching. We remove hot spots, blemishes, lighten wrinkles, clean up lipstick, fix strands of hair and so on. A few simple processes will often achieve what we need.

 First, we always create a new layer before using a new tool. Any changes we make should be made on a new layer, and we flatten the image when we’re done.  Why should we do this?  There are many reasons. Most important of all, it is non-destructive – meaning we are not changing the underlying pixels of the image and we can always undo what we’ve done, masking the area or deleting the layer if it isn’t heading in the direction we want.  Creating a new layer is easy: we just duplicate the Background  layer  (MAC: Command+j  •  Win: Ctrl+j). Then, we select this new layer we’ve just created and zoom in on the area we’re working on.

 We start local retouching with the Healing Brush (Shift+J). We usually work with a brush between 45 and 70% Hardness as a softer brush will result in a plastic softness and artificial tones.Local Corrections with the Healing Brush | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

Settings   •The Healing Brush tool:   Normal Mode; Sampled Source; 45-75% Hardness; 5-7 Diffusion; All Layers Sample; ticked Aligned checkbox.

Technique  Sample skin in a spotless area as close as possible to the spot you are retouching  (MAC: Option+click  •  Win: Alt+click). You will get the appropriate results if your sample is very similar to the area you are touching up. Place your brush over the top of the blemish and click. Avoid painting, sweeping or making several clicks on the same spot. Move around the skin, cleaning the blemishes. Don’t forget to resample as you move over different areas.


 We clean up makeup lines, remove dry skin spots, lighten wrinkles and remove hair strands using the Patch tool (Shift+J).Local Corrections with the Patch tool | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

Settings   •The Patch tool:   Normal Source Mode; 5-7 Diffusion; unchecked Transparent checkbox.

Technique  Cut around the area you want to correct and move it to a nearby area of even skin. Move around the skin, correcting blotchy skin, multiple tiny blemishes, wrinkles and other imperfections.  Set the opacity of the layer at 100% which equals to the total remove of the wrinkles and other blemishes and lower if you just want to reduce wrinkles but not eliminate them completely.



 For many images, the Frequency Separation techniques are as far as we need to go to achieve beautiful skin. They work well for red and oily patches, wrinkles of all types, under-eye circles, dry skin texture, etc.  Typically, using these techniques, we break down the information data in our images into high and low frequencies layers, so that we can edit skin details in the different frequencies independently.  Low frequencies are the picture data that has information about colors and tones, shadows and light areas, but it will not show any textured details.  High frequencies contain information about fine details, such as hair, skin pores, fine lines, skin imperfections, etc.

Frequency Separation | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

PixaFOTO  |  Photoshop Skin Retouching Workflow


 What do we do to create our frequency separation?

1. We flatten the image  (Layer > Flatten Image), make two duplicates of the Background layer and label the top copy High Frequency and the middle copy Low Frequency.

2. Then, we turn off the visibility of the High Frequency layer and select the Low Frequency layer.  We blur that layer by using  Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur…  We blur the layer, adjusting the Radius, until all the fine details are blurred.

LOW Frequency | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

PixaFOTO  |  Photoshop Skin Retouching Workflow


3. After we’ve applied the Gaussian Blur filter, we turn the High Frequency layer’s visibility back on and select it.  We go to  Image > Apply Image  to apply the settings shown in the following image, and change the High Frequency  layer blending mode to Linear Light.HIGH Frequency | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

PixaFOTO  |  Photoshop Skin Retouching Workflow


Smoothening Skin Texture with the Surface Blur filter

 We are set up now and ready for retouching.  First, we remove skin blotchiness with the Surface Blur filter. This method is super quick and can be used as the preparation step before you get down to further retouching. It very well may be the only Frequency Separation technique that you need if your model has a great makeup and skin to start with.

1. We duplicate the Low Frequency layer, select the copy and apply the Surface Blur filter  (Filter > Blur -> Surface Blur…)  with settings shown in the following image.

Surface Blur | Frequency Separation | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

PixaFOTO  |  Photoshop Skin Retouching Workflow


2. Then, we mask that layer out  (MAC: Option+Add layer mask •  Win: Alt+Add layer mask) and paint in the areas on the mask where we would like smoothing applied with soft white brush (Shift+B).

Surface Blur | Frequency Separation | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

Settings   •The Brush tool:   Normal Mode; 100% Flow; 10-30% Hardness; 50% Opacity.

Technique  Paint in the mask with a white soft brush over the areas where you need to kill skin blotchiness.  Don’t paint in lips, eyes, hair and jewelry.  If you mess up something, just take a soft black simple brush, and it will act as an eraser.  Brush out anything you don’t want. Then, lower the opacity of the layer to achieve a desired look.


 To finish with this step, we create a new merged Low Frequency  layer:  we select both the original Low Frequency  layer and its surface blurred copy, while holding down the Shift key, and choose  Layer > Merge Layers.


 On the Low Frequency  layer we soften and even out color and tone transitions without affecting skin texture, which is preserved on the High Frequency  layer. We use the Healing Brush (Shift+J), the Clone Stamp (Shift+S), and the simple Brush (Shift+B).Low Frequency | Frequency Separation | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

Settings   •The Brush tool:   Normal Mode; 100% Flow; 20-40% Hardness; 20-30% Opacity.     •The Healing Brush tool:   Normal Mode; Sampled Source; 20-40% Hardness; 5-7 Diffusion; Current Layer Sample; ticked Aligned checkbox.     •The Patch tool:   Normal Source Mode; 5-7 Diffusion; unchecked Transparent checkbox.      •The Clone Stamp tool:   Normal Mode; 100% Flow; 20-40% Hardness; 20-30% Opacity; 5-7 Diffusion; Current Layer Sample; ticked Aligned checkbox. 

Technique  Work in small stages to blend and correct the areas that need attention.  As you work, pay attention to natural contours and changes in shading on the face. It’s easy to inadvertently clone slightly darker skin into lighter areas or to spread a highlight too far that will change the shape of the face and destroy the shadows and highlights.  We usually like working with a simple Brush and the Patch tools on the Low Frequency layer.  Still, we do sometimes use the other tools as well.


 On the High Frequency layer we correct large pores, fine chin hairs and anything else that needs attention.High Frequency | Frequency Separation | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

Settings   •The Healing Brush tool:   Normal Mode; Sampled Source; 75-100% Hardness; 5-7 Diffusion; Current Layer Sample; ticked Aligned checkbox.     •The Patch tool:   Normal Source Mode; 5-7 Diffusion; unchecked Transparent checkbox.      •The Clone Stamp tool:   Normal Mode; 100% Flow; 75-100% Hardness; 20-30% Opacity; 5-7 Diffusion; Current Layer Sample; ticked Aligned checkbox.     •The Sharpen tool:   Normal Mode; 15-25% Hardness; 15-30% Strength; unchecked Sample All Layers checkbox; ticked Protect Details checkbox. 

Technique  Move around the skin, correcting its texture.  Select areas with even texture as the samples. Go carefully with these touch ups: you want to reduce wrinkles and pores, not eliminate them completely.  We usually use both the Clone Stamp and the Healing Brush tools when working on the High Frequency layer. The Patch tool is very effective for dealing with deep wrinkles, just select a wrinkle and move it to an area of evenly textured skin.  For sharpening, you can use the Sharpen tool or the Smart Sharpen filter.


Sharpening Skin Texture with the High Frequency Separation

 We duplicate the High Frequency  layer and mask the copy layer out  (MAC: Option+Add layer mask •  Win: Alt+Add layer mask) before painting in with soft white brush (Shift+B).Texture Recovery | Frequency Separation | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

Settings   •The Brush tool:   Normal Mode; 100% Flow; 10-30% Hardness; 15-30% Opacity.

Technique  Paint in the mask with soft white simple Brush over the areas where you want the texture to be a little more pronounced.  We usually paint in lips, eyes, hair and jewellery.  If you mess up something, just take a soft black simple brush, and it will act as an eraser.  Brush out anything you don’t want. You can also adjust the Opacity of the layer to achieve a desired look.


 To finish with this step, we create a new merged High Frequency  layer:  we select both the original High Frequency  layer and its texture recover copy, while holding down the Shift key, choose Layer > Merge Layers and change the new High Frequency layer blending mode back to Linear Light.


Matching the Frequency Separation with Dodging & Burning

 Before we finish with the frequency separation, we create a new layer between the two separated layers (MAC: Command+Shift+N  •  Win: Ctrl+Shift+N).  We set this new layer blending mode to Overlay or Soft Light and fill it with Overlay-neutral color 50% grey. Choosing Overlay or Soft Light as the blend mode really is personal preference as some like the more punchy effect you get from Overlay mode and others like the more subtle Soft Light mode.   We usually use Overlay for the dodging and Soft Light for the burning. Dodging and burning in frequency separated portrait is very effective and you don’t affect the texture, just the tone.

Dodge and Burn | Frequency Separation | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

PixaFOTO  |  Photoshop Skin Retouching Workflow


 We use the Dodge and the Burn tools (Shift+O) to lighten or darken areas of the image without affecting skin texture.Dodge and Burn | Frequency Separation | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

Settings   •The Dodge tool:   Highlights Range; 0-20% Hardness; 0-10% Exposure; ticked Protect Tones checkbox.     •The Burn tool:   Shadows Range; 0-20% Hardness; 0-10% Exposure; ticked Protect Tones checkbox.  

Technique  The basic idea behind dodging and burning is brightening highlights and higher end midtones and darkening shadows and darker midtones. Work in small stages to correct the areas that need attention. If some of the areas are more mid tone than highlight or shadow , you can change the tool to mostly affect the midtones, setting the Range to Midtones.  As you paint, pay attention to face contours. If you mess up something, just take a soft simple brush with the same grey color (50% grey color is #808080), and it will act as an eraser. Brush out anything you don’t want and you are set. You can also adjust the opacity of the layer to achieve a natural look.


 To finish with the frequency separation retouching, we flatten the image, using  Layer > Flatten Image.



4. The ByRo Method

 We also use another technique for overall skin texture smoothing. The ByRo Method, named after the Brazilian retoucher who invented the technique, is very effective for that task. The ByRo technique is not good for dealing with red patches and blemishes. We always remove all noticeable blemishes and red patches before using the ByRo technique. Red patches are better handled with the Frequency Separation method, and blemishes respond well to the Local Corrections retouching.

 We create a new merged Background  layer of the work we’ve done on the skin so far and make a duplicate of the new merged Background layer.  We select this new layer and choose the Gaussian Blur filter  (Filter -> Blur -> Gaussian Blur…).  Then , we adjust the radius of blur until the skin smooths out and all variations in skin tone are gone. Once, we know the most appropriate radius, we close the Gaussian Blur dialogue box !!! without applying the blur.ByRo Method | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

PixaFOTO  |  Photoshop Skin Retouching Workflow


 Next, we open the  High Pass  filter  (Filter -> Other -> High Pass…), enter the radius from the Step 2 an apply the High Pass filter.ByRo Method | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

PixaFOTO  |  Photoshop Skin Retouching Workflow


 We open the Gaussian Blur filter again. This time, we apply one-third of the radius from the Step 2. For example, instead of 15 pixels set for the High Pass filter radius, we use 5 pixels this time. Then, we choose  Image > Adjustments > Invert  from the top menu to invert the layer.ByRo Method | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

PixaFOTO  |  Photoshop Skin Retouching Workflow


 We change the layer blending mode to Linear Light, and lower its Opacity to 50%. Then, we mask out the layer (MAC: Option+Add layer mask •  Win: Alt+Add layer mask) and paint in the areas on the mask where we would like smoothening applied with soft white simple brush (Shift+B).

ByRo Method | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

Settings   •The Brush tool:   Normal Mode; 100% Flow; 0-20% Hardness; 25% Opacity.

Technique  Paint in the mask with soft white simple Brush in all areas that need smoothing. Avoid zones along the edge of the face, eyes, nose, hair, and lips.  If you mess up something, just take a soft black simple Brush, and it will act as an eraser.  Brush out anything you don’t want. You can also adjust the opacity of the layer to achieve a desired look.


We flatten the final image, using  Layer > Flatten Image.



5. Final Touches


Adjusting Contrast

We have now completed all of the steps of our workflow. It’s time to add a few finishing touches. First, we use the Curves tool to add a little more contrast to our image. Curves is best applied as an Adjustment Layer:  Layer > New Adjustment Layer>Curves… Curves | Contrast Boost | Final Touches | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

Technique  Use Curves to adjust contrast by forming a slight RGB S-curve. Too much is usually not a good thing, and Curve adjustments follow this rule. You can also lower the opacity of the layer to achieve a desired look.


Digital photography seems to emphasise reds in skin tone and over-saturate all colours. We’ve grown accustomed to the look of digital photos, but the reds and over-saturation will ruin a fine portrait with corrected skin. To adjust this, we apply a Hue Adjustment layer:  Layer > New Adjustment Layer>Hue/Saturation…

Hue Sasturation | Final Touches | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

Technique   Select Reds and nudge the Hue to the right just until you see the red tones settle down (usually about 0 to +3).  Select Yellows and nudge the Saturation down until the skin tone looks more natural (usually between -5 and -10).   Select Master and lower the Saturation down a tiny bit, watching just for that over saturated look to ease (usually between 0 and -7). The Hue/Saturation adjustment layer can be revisited and tweaked, so don’t be afraid to play with settings until you are able to get skin that looks natural and healthy.


Digital photography combined with high-resolution monitors provides us with images that are unnaturally smooth and clean.  Adding a layer of grain as the final layer adds depth and realism to the whole image. Under the Layer menu, we choose  New > Layer  and apply the settings shown in the following image.Add Grain | Final Touches | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

PixaFOTO  |  Photoshop Skin Retouching Workflow


 Then, we select the new layer and apply the Grain filter  (Layer > Blur Gallery>Field Blur… ),  using the settings shown in the next image.Add Grain | Final Touches | Photoshop Skin Retouching • Portrait Retouching Workflow

PixaFOTO  |  Photoshop Skin Retouching Workflow

 To finish with this step, we adjust the layer opacity to taste (usually between 40 and 50%) and flatten the image.



This Photoshop Skin Retouching Workflow outlines a few techniques to help you achieve beautiful, natural-looking skin.

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Premium presets from PixaFOTO.comPhotoshop Skin Retouching

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