10 Step Skin Smoothing

With all the various techniques and methods I’ve tried for skin smoothing this 10 Step Skin Smoothing is by far my favorite. It’s quick and easy but preserves so much of the skin detail.  As the title of my post so subtly suggests I  didn’t actually design this method so I believe it’s only proper to give the credit to Calvin Hollywood, who produces some wonderful training programs (which I highly recommend).

I’ve broken down the method into 10 easy steps and it should take about 10-15minutes to complete.If you’re new Photoshop and don’t know what a layer, mask or filter is you should probably skip this tutorial as I don’t explain everything in detail. My goal was to keep this tutorial streamlined.

Here’s the image I’ll be using as an example:


Step 1

Duplicate your original image onto a new layer (click and press Ctrl +J). Then change the blend mode to vivid light and invert the layer (Ctrl+I). Your image should now look something like this:


Step 2

Convert your new layer (the black and grey one) to a smart object or for smart filters. Next, add a High-pass filter to it by clicking Filter>Other>High Pass from the top menu bar.


Now, I know High-pass will usually sharpen an image and turn it grey but as we’ve inverted the image it will do the opposite. You want to make sure you get a kind of blurry glowing effect that smooths everything out. I find around 20-25 pixels usually works. Here’s my image:


Step 3

Now let’s bring back some skin detail by adding a Gaussian blur (remember our layer is still inverted so this will do the opposite of blur). Calvin recommends using a 1-3px blur but I find going up to 4 or 5 is often okay for men. To add the blur click Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur. In this image I used a 3px blur


The trick is to just tweak it so the detail is beginning to come back but without ruining our smoothing (we will add back some more detail later anyway). Remember because we made a smart object you can click the filters and adjust them if you’re not happy.


Step 4

Alright now to recover our highlights and shadows. Double click the top layer in a blank area (clicking the picture will open the smart object, which we don’t want) to bring up the layer styles box.


In the “Blend If” box Alt+Click on the “This Layer” slider on the left and move it to the right to bring back the highlights. By Alt+Clicking the slider you should see the little arrows split. If you don’t drag the slider back to the starting point and try it again.

Do the same with the other slider but move it to the left. I find you can be fairly aggressive here and if you screw up you can always change the layer style later on. Here’s what using the sliders did on my image:


Half way done!

Step 5

Now our problem is the smoothing has been applied to the whole image and not just the skin, so we need to add a black layer mask (alt+click on the rectangle with a circle in it at the bottom right of the screen) to hide the layer.

Step 6

Now, with our layer mask selected, we’re going to paint back in the softening using a white brush set to 0% hardness. You’ll need to change brush sizes to get into small areas and you’ll want to avoid edges that you want to keep sharp like eyes, eye brows and lashes, hair, etc. I use 40% opacity for the face and go over spots that need it again. For the neck and body I go up to 80% opacity and do one swipe. Alternatively, you could paint in 100% and dial down the opacity of the layer when your done.

An awesome tip from Scott Kelby to make sure you’ve painted everywhere is alt+click the layer mask. This will turn everything black and white and you can paint in missed spots. alt+click the layer again to turn it back.


Step 7

You can stop at step 6 but if you’re retouching a bloke you’ll probably want some more pore detail so let’s add some in. Duplicate all your layers into one new layer (Ctrl+Alt+Shit+E). On this layer add a High-pass filter but keep it <2. I used 1.5. Now it looks a little to sharp so let’s add a little grain. To do this choose the Add Noise filter and add about 2-3% (I used 2). Finally, will blur everything on this layer just the littlest tiniest bit. Select Gaussian Blur and add a .2 blur (that’s point 2 not 2).

Step 8

Since everything is grey we need to change our blend mode. I use softlight but hard light or overlay may work as well, so check them out.

Step 9

Lower the opacity of your sharpening layer just a bit. I find 70-90% usually works but this is to taste.

Check out them pores!

Step 10

Group the two layers we’ve been working on (leaving the original layer alone) by Ctrl clicking on both layers and then pressing Ctrl+G. I renamed my group to skin to keep things straight for later retouching. The final touch is to lower the groups opacity a bit. Again I find 70-90% usually works but, as before, this is to taste.

It’s a subtle change in the before & after thumbnail below but makes difference a huge difference when enlarged.


Creating an Action:

Since I use this technique so often, I also created a two part action to really speed up the process named after the Calvin Hollywood (from who I learned the technique). You can download the Hollywood Skin action set here.  It contains two actions:

  • A Skin Smoothing Action
  • An Add Pores Action (designed to be use after the skin smoothing action)


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