First, press D on your keyboard to set the foreground and background colors to the default black and white. Select the Brush tool and apply the settings below.
Zoom in to 100% and paint over the skin. The parts that you paint will appear smoother with a different skin tone. Don’t worry if the skin tone doesn’t look correct. This is because we didn’t pick the correct color when we used the Hue/Saturation to tint the “Texture” layer. It’s too difficult to do that without a preview, so we’ll fix that later.
When painting, you’ll need to change the brush size and hardness frequently. It would be tedious to always access the brush option menu to do this so take this as an opportunity to use hot keys. Use the following hot keys to help you with modifying the brush size and hardness:
- Decrease brush size: [
- Increase brush size: ]
- Decrease brush softness by 25%: Shift + [
- Increase brush softness by 25%: Shift + ]
When you’re done, your layer mask should have the skin areas in white and the skin should look smooth.
Now we’re going to fix back the color and tone of the skin as we mentioned earlier in the tutorial. Select the “Texture” layer and press Ctrl+U to access the Hue/Saturation tool. Alter the settings to get a natural looking skin tone.
- The Hue setting is usually correct. I increased it by 10 to add more yellow to it to make the appearance of the red areas less visible.
- The Saturation setting usually needs to be reduced greatly. Adjust this until the skin tone looks natural but not too pale.
- The Lightness setting requires slight modification. A slight change in the lightness will create big difference in how the skin blends in with the image. As you adjust the setting, you will see how sensitive this setting is. Even though it requires high precision, it is easy to tell when it is the correct setting. If it is off, it will look really off. If it is at the correct setting, it will look a lot more natural.
Finally, we’re going to restore the skin details. Choose Image > Apply Image. Use the settings below.
The reason why we’re applying data from the Red channel is because it contains the least skin imperfections. The image below shows the difference in the channels. The red channel hides many of the skin imperfections that are visible in the green and blue channel.
Here’s the final results after applying this airbrushing technique. In the image below, you can see how smooth the skin looks. Because the image below has been downsized to fit into this tutorial, it may look slightly plastic. However, when zoomed in, the texture is clearly visible.
This is a crop of an area zoomed in 100%. The tiny skin bumps are still visible. Even near the bottom right of the image, it still looks natural because of the “Texture” layer that we added. Without that layer, that area would appear as a solid color with no noise.
And as usual, here are the before and after images.
Update: Here’s a video on retouching skin in Photoshop. It’s a completely different tutorial than this one but I highly recommend you watch it.
Update 2: I highly recommend you try these skin retouching actions – they’re the best actions you can get. To use, simply play the action then paint over the skin. You can airbrush skin, mattify skin, restore blown-highlights, and more. Highly recommended.