How to smooth skin in Photoshop and other touch-up tricks

Ready for a close-up

Have a headshot that you’re not so happy with? Maybe you had a blemish that day, or your lipstick smeared. Or perhaps you want to diminish some aspects of your face or emphasize others. It’s all possible using the power of Photoshop! In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to smooth skin in Photoshop. I’ll also show you how to minimize freckles and wrinkles, and make teeth look whiter.

If you want to follow along at home with this tutorial using the exact same picture, you can download it from Pexels, a stock photo site filled with free, high-quality shots like this. Then try it out on your own headshots!

Related: 11 places to find more diverse stock photos of people

How To Smooth Skin In Photoshop Original

Before I dig into the nitty-gritty, I just want to say that I am not anti-freckles, I don’t hate wrinkles, or judge people on tooth color!

This young lady is beautiful just the way she is. But when you have aspects of your photos that you want to change, that’s totally your prerogative and I’m just here to show you how.

So let’s get started.

The things I’m working on in this shot are:

  • Reducing freckles/smoothing out skin tone
  • Eliminating under-eye circles and wrinkles
  • Whitening teeth

How To Smooth Skin In Photoshop Closeup

How to smooth skin in Photoshop

Always start with a copied layer so you can go back to the original if you make a mistake. To do that, click on the “Background” layer on the right side of the screen, then go to the layer menu and choose “Duplicate Layer.”

The menu is located in the upper right of the layers palette. It’s called a “hamburger” menu and looks like three horizontal lines stacked vertically (like the bread and burger on a hamburger).

When you click this, a flyout menu appears with options you can click.

Like I said above, we are choosing “Duplicate Layer.”

How To Smooth Skin In Photoshop Duplicate Layer

Our new duplicate layer is called “Background copy.”

Make sure it’s selected, then go to the left side of your screen to the tall, skinny toolbar. Choose the “Healing Brush” tool.

You can paint this around on her face as needed to remove or blend spots.

Don’t go crazy with your edits here or she’ll end up looking unrealistic and you’ll take away all her character.

 

Just even things out.

How To Smooth Skin In Photoshop Healing Brush

Tip: It’s easy to make mistakes and run out of “undos.” So open up your “History” palette to easily undo changes going back multiple steps. You can find this by going to the main Photoshop menu at the top of your screen (not pictured here) and clicking on Window > History.

How to lighten the dark circles in Photoshop

We’ve successfully evened out her skin and touched up her freckles, but the area under her eyes still looks a little dark and wrinkled.

How To Smooth Skin In Photoshop Evened Out

Zoom in on the eye (use the magnifying glass in the toolbar).

How To Smooth Skin In Photoshop Zoom In

Then use a combination of the rubber stamp tool and the healing brush tool to touch up this area.

How To Smooth Skin In Photoshop Eye Touch Up

Now duplicate your adjusted layer and name it “Blur.” Remember you can find the duplicate layer option inside the hamburger menu flyout area like we did above.

How To Smooth Skin In Photoshop Blur

Next, go up to Filter in the main menu and choose Blur > Gaussian Blur.

How To Smooth Skin In Photoshop Gaussian Blur

The Gaussian Blur dialog box pops up. Drag the slider to adjust the blur.

I start by dragging it all the way to zero, then slowly pulling it right to increase blurriness until it looks good. Just focus on the skin. Don’t worry about the other parts of the picture getting blurry. We’ll fix those next.

How To Smooth Skin In Photoshop Gaussian Blur Dialog Box

Sharpen the eyes and hair for a natural look

Now that the skin is sufficiently blurry and softer looking, we want to sharpen up the areas that we didn’t want to be blurred. Like the hair around her face, her eyebrows and her eyes.

Sharpening the eyes, in particular, is very important in this step. It keeps the overall photo looking like it was shot correctly with just the skin and background slightly blurred.

It looks intentional and natural, which is what we want.

 

We’ll do this sharpening step by adding a mask to our blur layer.

What happens with the mask is you paint over it to reveal the layer underneath (the one that’s not blurred and is sharp and focused). So it’s like you’re cutting holes out of the mask to reveal what’s below, just in certain spots.

Our mask is blurry and the layer below is not.

With the “Blur” layer selected, click the button in the bottom of the layers palette to add a mask. Use a paintbrush to paint black (make sure black is your foreground color in the little black/white squares in the lower left of your screen under the tools) over the areas we want sharper.

How To Smooth Skin In Photoshop Sharpen Hair

How to make teeth look whiter in Photoshop

Now for the teeth. The issue with the teeth in this shot is that they look slightly yellow. This is common and will probably be the case with most headshots. It’s all that staining coffee and tea we drink!

Select the teeth using whatever selection tool you prefer.

I use the pen tool for this, but that is slightly more advanced. You might prefer to use the lasso or polygonal lasso tool (third tool down in the toolbar on the left of your window.) Go ahead and select the teeth.

How To Smooth Skin In Photoshop Select Teeth

With the teeth still selected, go up to the Edit Menu and choose Copy Merged. This takes a little screenshot of just the selected area.

How To Smooth Skin In Photoshop Copy Merged

Then go back to Edit and choose Paste. Or use your keyboard commands to paste. Your new layer will be pasted in above the “Blur” layer in the layers palette.

How To Smooth Skin In Photoshop Paste

Name your new layer “teeth” then go to the bottom of that palette and click the little half circle icon. Choose Color Balance from the menu that pops up.

How To Smooth Skin In Photoshop Color Balance

A “properties” dialog box appears. Don’t adjust the sliders on that properties dialog box yet, or your changes on the color balance layer will affect every layer below it. The entire picture will be altered — we don’t want that.

We want to apply these color adjustments to the teeth only. That means we need to make a clipping mask next.

How To Smooth Skin In Photoshop Color Balance Adjustment

With the Color Balance layer still selected, go to the hamburger menu in the upper right of the layers palette again. This opens a flyout menu where we can choose Create Clipping Mask.

How To Smooth Skin In Photoshop Create Clipping Mask

Like I mentioned above, the problem with her teeth is that they look slightly yellow. So inside the properties window for Color Balance, you will want to drag the sliders away from Yellow and Red and towards Blue and Cyan.

You can also play with the transparency of this layer when you’re done adjusting these sliders.

Note also that there’s a little downward facing arrow on the Color Balance layer showing that we have correctly applied the clipping mask.

How To Smooth Skin In Photoshop Teeth Whitening

If you hide your teeth + color balance layer briefly (click the little eye icon next to the layers to hide/show them), you can see the “before” version of the teeth.

Here’s a screenshot with a side-by-side comparison so you can see the difference. The “before” shot is slightly yellow, and the “after” shot is lighter, and whiter, but still natural looking.

How To Smooth Skin In Photoshop Before And After Whitening

And we’re done! We haven’t lost the essence of her face, just lessened the contrasting freckles, under-eye circles, slight wrinkles and tooth stains.

How To Smooth Skin In Photoshop Final Product

I hope you enjoyed the tutorial! If you’re not ready to tackle how to smooth skin in Photoshop there are many other image editing applications. I’ve heard good things about the Facetune app (mobile) and PicMonkey has some great editing capabilities as well. Have fun sprucing up your selfies!

Related: How to use Canva to create branded images in less than an hour

Image by: Hichem Dahmani on Unsplash