How To Retouch Skin In Photoshop

How To Retouch Skin In Photoshop

Welcome to my first post in my new category Editing like a boss where I will show how you can edit your pictures to archive a professional look. With the same fast and easy techniques that professional retoucher and photographers use.


With that being said. 😀 Let’s get started.

You have probably seen pictures that are retouched to a point where they look like a doll o something right? Because there is not more texture in the skin and everything looks really plasticy. So what If there would be a way to seperate color from detail. so you can fix all the usual issues like dirty porse, iritated skin and wrinkels while the skin texture remains untouched.  Well you are in luck 😀 I will show you how to retouch skin in photoshop without destroying the structure of the skin or the lighting in the picture. The technique we will use for that is called frequency separation and is used by every professional in the business.


What Is Frequency Separation

How To Retouch Skin In Photoshop

I just thought it is funny and it showes the importance of high and low frequency layers. It is High frequency Einstein and low frequency monroe. 🙂 form far away you only see monroe from close up it’s clearly Einstein.

High frequency

The high frequency contains all the detail information in the picture. Like pores, wrinkles just all the details.

How To Retouch Skin In Photoshop

Low frequency

The low frequency contains all the color information. For example how irritated the skin is or how dark the area underneath the eyes is.

How To Retouch Skin In Photoshop

Is It Always Necessary?

Nope sometimes it is quicker to just use the healing brush or whatever you want, but for complex retouching or for big pictures it really helps to put in the time.

Ok, Enough Theory Open Up Your Picture In Photoshop.

1. Make two copies of the first layer. (press Ctrl+j or Cmd+j on mac) name the top one High and the other one low.

How To Retouch Skin In Photoshop

2. Select the low copy, go to filters>blur gaussian blur. Choose a radius that destroys all the little wrinkles but not the whole image and apply the filter.

3. Now go to the high layer and go to Image> apply image. Select the low layer as the reference layer.

When you have an 8bit picture: use the blending mode Subtract, Opacity 100%, set scale on 2 and offset to 128. Click Ok

8 Bit

When you have a 16bit picture: use the blending mode Add, Opacity 100%, scale 2 and offset 0 also check the Invert box. Click Ok

16 Bit

4. Now set the layer mode of the high layer to linear light and done. 🙂

How to find out which color depth your picture has: Go to image>mode and look where the check mark is.

Importing The Action

Now we can start retouching. Ooooor you just download my free photoshop action which will do an advanced frequency separation plus you wouldn’t have to do all these steps again every time.

  1. click here.
  2. Unpack
  3.  Go to window and click on actions. Click on the actions button and click open the menu by clicking on the symbol in the right top corner.
  4. Click on load actions and load in the unpacked Aarongrafic.com_Retouch_CC action.
  5. Click the little symbol again and click on button mode.
  6. Now you can choose the action you want.


Editing With The Frequency Separation Action

  1. Make a copy of the base layer (press Ctrl+j or Cmd+j on a mac)
  2. Select the new layer and press the Advanced Frequency Separation button. 
  3. now you should end up with this:



How to edit the low layer

Turn on the check layer group and make sure only the solarize and the black and white layer are turned on.

Now with the black and white, you got a better view of how the light in the image looks like. And where irritations are on the skin.

Before you start editing go to Edit>Keyboard shortcuts.

  1. Go to filter and look for Gaussian blur. Create a shortcut for that.
  2. Then another one for motion blur.
  3. Thank me later. 🙂 because you will use these filters very often.



Use the lasso (L) to make a quick selection around the area that you want to select. Make sure you use a soft edge on the selection.

Press (Q) to preview your selection press (Q) again to go it.

When you have your selection press your shortcut for motion or gaussian blur and apply it.

Use gaussian blur when you just want to even out a whole area and motion blur when you want to smooth out a gradient from bright to dark.

How to edit the High layer.

You can edit the high layer like a normal layer with your healing or stamping tool.

  • Don’t use too big brushes or you will create some really visible patterns.
  • Don’t use a hard edge. So the fixes blend in with the picture around it.
  • Also, have a look for the sharpness of the area that you want to fix and the area where you take the sample from. When they don’t match it will look weird.


Don’t make these mistakes:

  1. I know when I edited my first pictures I over edited them. Don’t take all the wrinkles out. It will make the face you try to edit like a doll.
  2. Also don’t go too hard on the gaussian blur. You can change the whole light setup in the picture with it and if you overdo it will look weird.

That’s already it with my how to retouch skin in photoshop post. I hope learned something new. If you have any opinion or question to this technique please let me know in the comments and I will get to you as fast as I can.


Cheers Aaron.

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6 thoughts on “How To Retouch Skin In Photoshop

  1. Darren

    Photoshop is an awesome program and I’ve been using it for years. So far I’ve barely touched the surface with what it can do. You’ve almost got to be some sort of genius to use the program to its full capacity.

    All I usually do is exactly what I’m doing now. I need to know how to perform a specific task, so I search out tutorials that show me how to do it in a step by step process. For skin retouching, your post is perfect. Exactly what I needed, thanks.

    1. Aaron

      Hey Darren, I’m very glad that I was able to help you with my post I hope you have seen that you can download the action for photoshop so you don’t have to do all the steps everytime again.

  2. Dave

    Hi there, Excellent post and has given me some great insight into what is possible with photo shop.

    I need a program that will edit my photos and this looks like it has all the capabilities that you could possibly need.

    Making it easy to download the free photo shop action is convenient.

    Keep up the good work.


    1. Aaron

      Hay Dave, thanks for the nice feedback. 🙂 

  3. Danny

    Hi, thanks for this article. I am studying photography at A-Level currently and Photoshop is an integral part of the course, but unfortunately I have never been great with it. This post helped break down a few things I didn’t even know Photoshop could do- I will definitely come back for more help and clarification in the future!

    1. Aaron

      Hey Danny, You will be amazed what you can do with Photoshop and once you get the hang of it you will love it 🙂 

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