Quick Skin Retouching, Part 2: Skin Smoothing Using Gaussian Blur

If you want to smoothen skin in a jiffy in Photoshop, the Gaussian Blur tool is one way to do it. With this method, we will be blurring out the face and masking the sections that are not skin. It might come out a little unrealistic, however, since the result might be a porcelain effect. This is great if used for quick retouching of faces that do not take up a large part of the image. Or if you are deliberately going for the porcelain look!

Before you begin smoothing skin, remove any blemishes first. This is part 2 of Quick Skin Retouching and you can learn how to do blemish removal in Part 1. For the purposes of this tutorial, we will be using the same image sample after the discolorations have been removed. 

Step 1:

Open your image and create a new layer just so we don’t touch the opened image. 

Step 2:

Make a copy of the face by drawing a selection with the Lasso Tool. Keep the Shift key pressed to add to the selected area or hold down the Alt key to subtract from the selection.

Step 3:

Next, we will soften the edges of the selection we made, as well as smooth the transition between the selected and non-selected area. This is called Feathering, and it will help blend the selected face copy and the layer beneath it. Go to Select > Feather and input 20px from the popup window that will appear.

Step 4:

Go to Edit > Copy Merged (keyboard shortcut is Shift+Ctrl+C) and this will make a copy of the image, not just a layer. Go back to Edit and select Paste (Shift+Ctrl+V) and a new layer will automatically be created and placed on top of the one you have been using. This is the copy layer that we will be blurring.

Step 5:

Select Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and choose a radius that will blur out the face to the point where the features are just recognizable. For this I used a radius of 15px.

Step 6:

Now you will have what looks like a very blurry face. We will need to make certain details reappear such as the eyebrows, eyes, nose and mouth. Click on the Add Layer Mask button at the bottom of the Layers Palette and then click on the Brush tool. Make the Opacity 100% and the Flow 20% so you can be more precise when you paint. Keep the foreground color black in order to hide the layer (white as foreground would show the underlying layer). With the brush, paint back the features. Use a wider brush diameter with a low opacity over areas that also have detail, such as the curve of the chin or the section above the upper lip, in order to show more facial contours. Remember to paint over the edges of the face as well to make the masking more seamless. 

Step 7:

After masking to reveal the key features, you can reduce the strength of the blur by decreasing Opacity or Fill of the layer. For this I decreased the Fill to 35%. Here is a comparison after fading the Gaussian Blur effect:

The result is smooth looking skin. 

If the skin appears too artificial, you can add some texture by using the Add Noise filter. Since we don’t want to apply noise to the entire image, we will limit it only to the selected face area. A simple way to do this is to first use the Lock Transparency option in the Layers Palette. What happens is the transparent portions in the blurry face layer will remain unaffected after applying the Noise filter. Select Filter > Noise > Add Noise, and choose a small amount such as 2%. Tick the Monochromatic checkbox to make black and white noise (which gives a better textured effect) and select the Uniform option to make it more even.

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