Removing Blemishes & Retouching Skin in Adobe Photoshop

Removing blemishes and retouching skin in Adobe Photoshop is a fairly straightforward, yet effective process when done correctly. More than anything, it requires patience and an ability to balance aesthetics with realistic results. The last thing we want to do is make our clients look like those plastic models in magazines at the grocery store. Ugh.

While I’m retouching acne in this example, the technique works for any type of skin issue. Whether it’s a skinned knee, bruised leg, tan lines, or spaghetti sauce stuck to your face, it’s treatable with a little Photoshop know-how.

To prove how well I can empathize with our high school seniors, I am using my high school portrait for this example. Yes, this is a huge social risk, but I’m willing to do it for all of you. If only digital photography had been mainstream back in 2000.

As you can see, my acne was quite severe and is the first thing I notice when viewing the photo years later. We’re going to work on the photo so that I still look like high school Kyle, but with healthier skin.

Create a Smart Object

First, I blend the skin tone to give a more even color to the skin. To accomplish this, open the file in Photoshop and convert it to a smart object by right-clicking on the background layer and selecting ‘Convert to Smart Object.’ This allows us to change our adjustments later as needed.

Portraiture Filter

For the next step, we’ll be using the Portraiture plugin filter from Imagenomic. While it requires a purchase, it works specifically on the skin tones and produces great results when used correctly. I consider it an essential tool for professional portrait photographers.

Once Portraiture is installed, access it by clicking Filters–>Imagenomic–>Portraiture within Photoshop. This brings up the Portraiture settings and allows a great deal of customization. For our purposes, we’re going to select lowest setting possible (default) from the preset menu. This helps preserve skin texture while still balancing skin tone. Click OK to get back to Photoshop.

Even with the low setting, it is a bit too soft for my taste. So, we’re going to lower the opacity of my Portraiture smart filter. To do this, double click on the two arrows to the right of your portraiture filter settings in the layer panel. This will bring up a dialogue box for adjusting the opacity (strength) of the filter. I adjusted mine to 80%, but you can set it according to taste.

As you can see, the skin tone is improved and some of the acne is less severe in appearance, but there is still a good amount of scarring to clean up.

Skin Repair and Blending

To repair the skin, next I patiently work with the healing brush in Photoshop to repair the damaged skin and give it the type of texture I could only dream of 10 years ago. This tool takes a sample portion of the photo that we select and blends it with an undesirable portion to produce a more favorable result.

To use this tool, first hit cmd/contrl + shift N on your keyboard to make a new layer. We’ll name it ‘Skin Retouch.’

Now select the healing brush from the toolbar on the left. Make sure to select the healing brush and not the spot healing brush that’s just above it.

Here’s the last step! Hold down the alt/option key to get a bullseye cursor and click on a healthy portion of skin to tell Photoshop where to get its sample. Then brush over the damaged skin in small sections and watch Photoshop do its healing magic. If your correction doesn’t quite blend in, try sampling a new area. It takes patience, but the final product is worth the effort.

Our end result is natural and still looks like me, but without the acne that made me shy in front of all those high school girls.

Kyle Berg is the owner of Ten18 Photography in Eugene, Oregon and specializes in high school senior photos, lifestyle photography, portraiture, weddings, and just about anything else where he gets to take pictures of people. He’s also thankful for Accutane, the prescription drug that finally knocked out his acne for good after everything else had failed.