How to Smooth Skin in Photoshop

Hi!!  I’ve been wanting to do a post on skin smoothing since the beginning of this blog – I think it is one of the top questions that people want answered when they start processing their photos.  There are several methods of smoothing skin in Photoshop, and my plan was to outline a few of them.



But I have to be honest, I feel completely incapable of putting this post together!!  I am struggling!!  Lol  :)  I don’t like talking about things that I have no personal experience with, and to be honest, since the beginning I have only used one skin-smoothing method – the Portraiture plugin by Imagenomic.


I’m an extremely frugal person, so I certainly don’t purchase every photography-related product promising to help me to produce better images.  In fact, after buying Photoshop and Lightroom, I initially only purchased three other products… Portraiture, Noiseware (also by Imagenomic) and AutoLoader.


There were several pros whose work I admired who used the Portraiture plugin.  Awesome skin adds that final polish to a photo.  I had tried several different methods out there, and after using the trial version of Portraiture for the trial period, I was hooked.


The reason I love Portraiture is that it is quick and effective – just how I like things!  It targets only the skintones, so just the skin is evened out and smoothed – no painting involved.  Most methods in photoshop involve manually painting the ‘smoothed’ effect onto the skin using a layer mask.  This method works just fine, it’s just that you have to take time on each and every image painting the skin.  Portraiture saves me significant time since I don’t have to do that.


After removing skin blemishes, undereye circles, major skin discolorations, etc., I run Portraiture for that final polish on the skin.  I always run it on its own layer so that I can reduce the opacity. Here is what the dialog window looks like (you can see the skin tone mask that will be created):

You can see there are many, many options to set.  It’s a rare day when I need to mess with the default settings.  The only thing I change is where it’s output to (a New Layer).

Here is my before image – I’m obviously zoomed in! :


Here is after Portraiture is run on full strength… slightly plastic-y! :


Since I ran it in a separate layer, I reduced the opacity.  Here is my final:

These differences may be hard to tell here, but at a zoomed out level, evening the skintone can really make a difference to the overall feel of a photo.  It just gives the image a more polished feel.

I’ve got 2 little kids and I stay home with them, so I’m always trying to find time to edit at night, naps/quiet time, and on the weekends.  Time is invaluable to me.  Portraiture has truly been worth its weight in gold to me because it is so quick to run, and it really finishes off a photo.  I don’t have to spend time painting over the skin in each and every image to smooth it out, and it runs very quickly.

If you’re not at a place where you can buy yet another product, there are definitely methods you can use in Photoshop.  I’m directing you to outside sources on these since I have no personal expertise using these methods, but here are the basics…

1.  Gaussian Blur – for very basic smoothing

  • Duplicate your background layer
  • Go to Filter -> Blur -> Gaussian Blur and move the slider until the skin is soft (you can over-soften because you will use masking)
  • Create a black mask on your blurred layer, and then paint in the soft skin effect over the skin with a white brush, smoothing the skin.  Avoid smoothing hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows.
  • Google ‘gaussian blur to smooth skin’ – there are a gazillion tutorials  :)


2.  Inverted High Pass Filter

  • I did a post on using the High Pass Filter to Sharpen.  Did you know you can also use the High Pass Filter to Soften??!!
  • Simply create your High Pass layer (Filter -> Other -> High Pass), then invert it (Ctrl/Cmd + I).
  • Still put the layer on Soft Light mode (as in the linked tutorial)
  • Create a black mask on your softened layer, and then paint in the soft skin effect over the skin with a white brush, smoothing the skin.  Avoid smoothing hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows.
  • Google ‘inverted high pass filter to soften skin’ – another gazillion tutorials  :)


3.  Surface Blur

  • Duplicate your background layer
  • Go to Filter -> Blur -> Surface Blur.  Your settings will largely depend on your file size, but a Radius of 5 and Threshold of 15 seemed to be a good starting point for me.
  • The nice thing about Surface Blur is that it preserves the edges better, so a lot of times you just need to reduce the opacity of this layer to taste.
  • Create a mask if there are any areas that got overly-softened (you can mask them out)
  • *** NOTE:  If I was doing skin-softeneing manually, this is probably the method I’d use – it works best on my images at least! ***


You can achieve some stunning results combining one or a variety of these methods, along with sharpening details along the way so they don’t get lost in all the smoothing.  Again, Google is your friend on this one!!


There are also some really nice actions for smoothing skin.  If you have $$ to spare, Michelle Kane’s Flawless Face action works beautifully.  It does require that you paint the effect on your photo.


If you are looking for something free to try, Rita at The Coffee Shop just released her free Perfect Portrait 3 action that has a skin smoothing layer (she has other actions that do this as well).


I would also encourage you to play with the trial version of Portraiture.  Once you are processing loads of images (and being paid for it!), it really is a timesaver and does the job really well in my opinion.  :)


I hope that this has been helpful even though I didn’t do individual tutorials on all the methods – I feel like I’m not qualified to put something useful together!  Thanks for stopping by and reading.  :)


**UPDATE**  I did a video tutorial on a Newborn Photo Edit where you can see Portraiture live and in use.  Check it out if you’d like to see more on Portraiture!

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10 Responses to How to Smooth Skin in Photoshop

  1. I can’t tell you how much I love this blog. I just stumbled upon it yesterday and have already learned so much and I’ve barely scratched the surface. Thanks for an amazing resource.

  2. Sabrina says:

    Thanks for letting me know about the actions sets from The Coffee Shop! I’m doing a few newborn shoots for free to build up my portfolio and I didn’t want to spend money on a good smoothing action. If I get more newborn work, I’ll definitely look into the Portraiture action. Thanks again!

  3. Lisa says:

    Thank you! stumbled on your page a few weeks back and have learned a ton, really appreciate you sharing the info :)

  4. Karen says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. I just stumble on on your blog while browsing some photography sites, and I am definitely hook..I love the way how you explain the tutorial in PS, very simple and easy to follow. I am a parentographer and I am trying to be better in this field. Thank you so much for sharing. I learned a lot from your blog. Kudos to you!

  5. Angie!! many many thanks for sharing your skill with us. This tutorial help for become a professional photo retouching expert for graphic designer.

  6. Simply very helpful.I enjoyed a lot. Thanks for sharing.

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