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If you google “how to smooth skin in Photoshop”, you will see many tutorials where the skin texture is distorted and ends up looking fake. To achieve realistic skin smoothing result, I advise using the Frequency Separation technique in Photoshop.

Want to learn how to do it? In this tutorial, I will describe and explain every step of this process.

The essence of the Frequency Separation technique is about separating the texture on the person’s face from the shadows and tone in the shot and pasting them onto individual layers. As a result, you can make the colors, highlights and shadows look consistent not ruining the texture and the other way round.

1. Merge Layers Together

In most cases, skin smoothing in Photoshop takes place at the end of the entire image editing process. At this stage, you are likely to have a number of layers on the panel.

That’s why if you have worked with some adjustment layers when editing a photo, you have to combine them prior to doing Frequency Separation.

To generate a combined copy of all the adjustment layers, click Shift + Ctrl + Alt + E for Windows and Shift + Cmd+ Option + E for Mac.

2. Duplicate a Layer Twice

Press “Ctrl” for Windows (“Cmd” for Mac) and “J” keys two times on the picture’s layer. As a result, you will get two extra copies of the shot.

When you duplicate the background layer, you sort of make a backup of the original picture. Besides, you will have a chance to tweak your effect even if you import the shot into the program once again.

Name the layer on top “Details and Texture”, and the layer below – “Color and Tone”.

3. Open the “Gaussian Blur” Menu

To create a picture with the frequency separation effect, eliminate all the details from this layer first.

After that, go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and apply Gaussian Blur to the “Color and Tone” layer.

4. Set the Appropriate Radius

Then, disable the visibility of the top layer by clicking the eye button, so that you see the changes applied to the “Color and Tone” Layer.

When you smooth skin in Photoshop with the frequency separation technique, reducing the threshold is important to get rid of skin imperfections. That’s where such small details as eyelashes and skin pores are being blurred.

Don’t worry if the effect seems too weird. Later, you will be able to lower its intensity and the details will be visible.

Retouching macro portraits, go for 6-8 pixels. Medium-size portraiture calls for 3-5 pixels, full-length – 1-3 pixels. Then click “OK”. Check out more tips for photoshopping portraits.

5. Open the “Apply Image” Menu

Now, let’s go back to the “Details and Texture” layer. Enable its visibility by clicking the eye icon. On the top bar, find Image > Apply Image.

If you are completely unfamiliar with this technique, you may need an in-depth explanation of what exactly is going on. So you have just blurred the skin on the middle layer. Then you will be subtracting the texture only, from the top layer.

You smooth out the uneven areas and still retain the skin’s initial structure and clarity.

6. Enter the Settings

The values that you will be setting depend on your shot – whether it is an 8- or a 16-bit one. I, personally, am working with the 16-bit image.

When you are done setting the values, the layer is supposed to become grey with slight details. That’s what you have blurred out from the “Color and Tone” layer during one of the previous steps. It is sure to ring some bells in case you have ever dealt with the High Pass filter in Photoshop. 

7. Change the Blend Mode

While the “Detail and Texture” layer is selected, click on the Blend Mode field in the top left corner of the Layers Palette. This field is typically set to Normal. You should change it to “Linear Light”.

The strange grey picture will go back to its normal state and it will be sharp. As a result, your picture looks untouched. Besides, now the correct layers are ready for smoothing skin in Photoshop.

8. Create a New Layer

When using the Frequency Separation, you should know that there exist several ways of applying this technique. I suggest you add a new empty later between two layers for healing, cloning or painting operations. If you do it, you will be able to tweak the adjustments without any restrictions.

Choose the “Color and Tone” layer and add a new layer by clickingShift + Ctrl + N for Windows and Shift + Cmd + N for Mac. “Correction Layer” will be the most appropriate name for it.

You need this layer to get rid of excessive elements using the Eraser tool, without influencing the important areas.

9. Group the Layers

Choose three layers – “Color and Tone”, “Details and Texture” and “Correction Layer”. To do it, click on each layer while holding Ctrl (Cmd). After that, press Ctrl + G (Cmd + G).

A group of layers will be created, name it “Frequency Separation”. When all the layers are a part of one group, it won’t be so complicated to fine-tune the final result after you smooth skin in Photoshop.

10. Select the Mixer Brush Tool

For successful skin smoothing, I suggest using the Mixer Brush Tool. It provides convenient work with the transition from dark skin areas to light ones. To find the Mixer Brush Tool, right-click on the brush on the toolbar.

11. Set Up the Brush

Proper values of the Mixer Brush Tool are the following: Clean the Brush after Each Stroke • Custom • Wet: 40% Load: 20% Mix: 20% Flow: 20%.

To avoid a common rookie mistake, check twice that you have clicked on “Sample All Layers”.

Feel free to tweak the brush settings, increasing or lowering its intensity.

12. Hide the “Details and Texture” Layer

Click the eye icon on the left to disable the visibility of the “Details and Texture” layer. After that, you will notice that the skin appears super smooth. It is totally fine and done on purpose – to effectively manage the amount of airbrushing used on different parts of the skin.

13. Start Painting

Pick up the Mixer Brush Tool to carefully draw light and shadow patterns on the skin on the “Correction Layer”. It will smooth the transition from shadow to light and neutralize slight skin imperfections.

Draw on those parts, where tones or colors lack consistency and remember not to press too hard. For a more intense effect, just draw over the same part twice or thrice. If you go overboard with the brush, you may get a very blurred result at the end.

You also need to brush over the shoulders, the ears and the neck. The main thing is to fix and improve problem parts of the shot. Besides, I recommend you to learn how to remove double chin in Photoshop for better results.

14. Use the Eraser Tool

When the transitions are smoothed out, enable the visibility of the “Details and Texture” layer and check out the result. In case a certain part of the face seems over-retouched, pick up the Eraser tool and start smoothing the skin again, doing it more naturally now.

15. Reduce the Opacity

The frequency separation method is a widespread way of how to smooth face in Photoshop. As with any other technique, you can go too far.

In case you see that the final effect is indeed over the top, lower the opacity of the “Frequency Separation” group. Thus, you will make the overall effect less intense.

Keep in mind that it should be done not in the middle of the entire process but in the very end, after all the manipulations.

16. Fine-Tune the Result with the Spot Healing Brush Tool

Moving on to the “Details and Texture” layer, pick up the Spot Healing Brush tool or the Clone Stamp tool to eliminate all kinds of skin imperfections, stray hair and minor flaws.

Such High Frequency photo retouching involves going over and fixing the small details and hair with the Spot Healing Brush tool. The Clone Stamp tool is necessary for enhancing larger parts of the shot, copying the texture from the better parts.

Well done! Compare Your Before and After Photo

Congratulations, now you know how to smooth skin in Photoshop with the Frequency Separation technique! Take a look at the before/after picture.

The difference is noticeable immediately, but the retouch looks realistic. The skin has retained its texture, appears smooth and healthy.

In addition, I would like to note that this Photoshop skin smoothing technique shouldn’t be used for every single picture. If you do it properly, the entire process takes a lot of time, which isn’t really practical. Here is a more detailed tutorial on how to make Frequency separation in Photoshop with free Ps actions and videos.

Additional Tips on Skin Smoothing in Photoshop

Brush Customisation:

  • You can adjust the intensity of the Mixer Brush tool by tweaking settings like Sample Size (small for precise areas, large for broader strokes) and Flow (opacity of the brush effect). Experiment to find what works best for your photo.

Dodge and Burn Tools:

  • After smoothing the skin with the Mixer Brush on the “Correction Layer,” you can use the Dodge and Burn tools on the “Color and Tone” layer to further refine highlights and shadows for a more sculpted look.

Frequency Separation for Different Skin Tones:

  • While the basic Frequency Separation steps remain the same, for darker skin tones, you might need to use a slightly larger Gaussian Blur radius to avoid losing details. Adjust brush settings for a lighter touch when smoothing. Conversely, for lighter skin tones, a smaller blur radius and a more defined brush stroke might be suitable.

Further Readings

How To Make Frequency Separation Actions In Photoshop

Create a Female Assassin in Photoshop
Create a Stunning 'Dance on Fire' Scene in Photoshop