Retouch Skin like a Professional

There are a lot of techniques for cleaning up skin in Affinity Photo, but this one is my favorite. With this technique, not only does the skin look smoother, but the texture of the skin stays the same, so it looks realistic and natural.



Step 0: Downloading the Image

For this tutorial, we’ll be using this beautiful portrait. I’ve used the first image in this group of images.

In addition to this written tutorial, you can also watch our video tutorial on retouching skin for another example.



Step 1: Frequency Separation

To start off, let’s duplicate the background layer by pressing Command J (Mac) or Control J (PC).

Duplicate Background Layer


At the top of the screen, go to Filters, then Frequency Separation.

Frequency Separation separates the high and low frequency parts of your photo into two separate layers.

Filters, then Frequency Separation


Zoom into the picture. On the left, we see the High Frequency side has the pores of the skin well defined, but it has no color. On the right, we see the Low Frequency side has less defined pores, and all of the color.

High frequency keeps all the texture, while low frequency keeps all of the colors.

When editing skin, we can change the Radius slider in the Dialog Box. Use a smaller Radius for smoother skin, and a higher Radius for more natural looking skin. For this image, we will keep this slider set to 2 pixels.

Press Apply in the Dialog Box.

Change Radius, Press Apply


In the Layers Panel, we now have a High Frequency layer and Low Frequency layer.

Press Command 0 (Mac) or Control 0 (PC) to see the whole picture again.

High and Low Frequency Layers



Step 2: Gaussian Blur

Select the Low Frequency layer, and duplicate it by pressing Command J (Mac) or Control J (PC).

Duplicate Low Frequency layer


On this duplicate layer, we will apply a Gaussian Blur Filter.

Press on the Filters icon.

Press Filters Icon


Apply a Gaussian Blur Filter.

Apply Gaussian Blur Filter


Increase the Radius until the skin looks fairly blurred. For this image, I’ll increase the Radius to 20 pixels.

Increase Radius Slider


We don’t want the whole image to be blurred. We just want the skin to be slightly blurred.

With the Low Frequency layer selected, hold down Alt or Option, then press on the Mask icon. This applies a black Mask to our layer. Now we can paint on our “smooth skin effect” wherever we want it.

Hold Alt/Option, Press Mask Icon


Press on the Mask layer icon in the Layers Panel.

Select the Paint Brush Tool.

Press Mask icon in Layers panel, select Paint Brush


Set your color to white, and use with a low Flow with 0% Hardness.

You can adjust the size of the brush by using the bracket keys underneath the equal sign on your keyboard ( [ and ] ).

Adjust Flow, Hardness, Brush Size


Paint on the woman’s skin to apply the smoothing effect.

Be careful to just blur the skin, not the edges of the face or her eyes.

Paint in white on skin



Step 3: Inpainting Brush

With the skin looking smooth, we can now remove some of the bigger blemishes on the skin.

Add a new Pixel Layer to the top of the layers stack, by pressing on the Add New Pixel Layer button.

New Pixel Layer


Select the Inpainting Brush Tool, then in the Context Toolbar, make sure you have Current Layer & Below selected.

Change to Current Layer and Below


Paint over the blemishes to remove them.

Inpaint Blemishes


If you ever decide that the skin looks too perfect, and you want to bring back some of the natural skin, we can always lower the opacity of our edits.

First, select all of the layers while holding down Shift, excluding the bottom layer.

Select all layers but bottom


Then press Command G (Mac) or Control G (PC) to group the layers.

Command or Control G to group layers


With the group selected, you can lower the Opacity in the Layers Panel to bring back some of the natural skin.

Lower Opacity to bring back texture


You did it! You can use these steps to retouch skin in any of your photos, and make it as smooth or natural as you want!