How To Change Skin Tones In Photoshop

At times, when taking photos, the white balance may be slightly off which leads to discolored images. This can become a problem when photographing portraits as their skin may turn a greenish or reddish tint. To fix this problem, knowing how to change skin tones in Photoshop is essential.

Weird skin tones in images are not only caused by white balance, it could be caused by the lighting when the photo was taken. Skin tones can also be altered accidentally during post-processing when the hue of the image is adjusted. 

When you suddenly realize that the subject’s skin tone doesn’t look quite right, you will want to fix this up sooner rather than later. After all, no one wants to look like they are sick or sunburnt based on the hue of their skin.

So let’s break down how to correct skin tones in Photoshop as well as cool tricks to add creative colors to the skin to create a fantasy-like effect on your images.

How To Correct Skin Tones In Photoshop

Skin tones that are too pink, orange, or red are common in portrait photography and can happen due to several factors. Once you open your image in Photoshop, you can quickly fix the slightly off-colored skin tones. 

This method works when the skin tone is close to what it needs to be. This method can be done before or after other edits, however, it is best to get the skin tone correct as early in the editing process as possible. 

Method 1: Using The Curves Adjustment Layer

The Curves adjustment method gives you control over the colors in the image with the ability to adjust multiple control points within the tonal range in the image.

Step 1: Select The Skin Tones In The Image

To correct skin tones in Photoshop, open the image by navigating to File > Open.

Once the file is open, you must select the skin hues so you don’t affect the rest of the image. To do this, navigate to Select > Color Range to open the Color Range window.

In the Color Range window, select the drop-down menu next to Select and choose Skin Tones.

Once you have selected Skin Tones, check the box next to Detect Faces and change the Fuzziness slider to about 50. This will help Photoshop narrow in on the skin tones and not other similar colors in the image. Depending on the skin tones in your image, the Fuzziness amount may vary.

The preview box will give you an indication of the tones that will be selected in the image. Use this box to determine the correct Fuzziness for your image.

Once you are happy with the selection, click OK and you will notice marching ants around the skin tones in your image. If there are other areas in the image that have similar tones to the subject’s skin tone, these areas will be selected as well.

If you don’t want the other areas of the image to be affected by the color correction, then select the Quick Selection tool from the toolbar or press W, to remove these areas. With the tool selected, hold in Alt (Win) or Option (Mac) and drag over the areas you want to deselect. 

After you have removed the unwanted areas, you will only have the areas of skin selected. You can now move on to correct this color.

Step 2: Correct The Skin Tones With The Curves Adjustment Layer

Once the correct areas are selected, create a new Curves adjustment layer. To do this, select the Curves icon from the Adjustments panel. If the panel is not visible on the right-hand side of the workspace select Window > Adjustments to open it.

Once the Curves adjustment panel is open, select the drop-down menu next to RGB and select the color that is closest to the incorrect skin tone. In this case, select Red to remove the orange-red color of the skin.

Click on the line in the center and drag it down to adjust the skin tones. Watch the image to see where the line should be dragged to. You can select another area on the line and drag it down to change the color as needed.

By dragging down the reds curve I have added cyan to the skin tones to reduce the redness and give the skin tones a more natural look. The Curves adjustment will also create a new layer in the Layers panel which you can re-edit if you need to re-adjust the skin tones at a later stage.

Method 2: Using The Selective Color Adjustment Layer

The selective color method allows you to make small corrective adjustments to your image by changing various colors in the photo. Using a layer mask to select the skin tones, or using the select skin tones method from the previous section will help target the following adjustments.

Step 1: Add The Selective Color Adjustment Layer

Start by adding a new adjustment layer by navigating to Layers > New Adjustment Layer > Selective Color. You can also select the Selective Color icon from the Adjustments panel if you want to skip the naming option.

If you select Selective Color from the menu, a window will open, add a name to your new layer if you would like to, and select OK.

Step 2: Adjust The Color Sliders

In the Properties panel, select the color set closest to the color you are correcting in the image. In this case, select Reds from the drop-down menu next to Colors.

You can now adjust the various sliders to reduce and increase various colors in the image. In this case, where the skin color is too red, the Cyan slider should be moved to the right to add more Cyan into the image. Moving the Cyan slider to the left will add more red to the image.

The sliders each indicate the color that is added when the slider is moved to the right, however here are the proper color ranges for each slider moving left or right:

  • Red – Cyan
  • Green – Magenta
  • Blue – Yellow
  • White – Black

Step 3: Re-edit As Needed

Once you are happy with the adjustments, you can move on to other edits to the image. A new layer will be added to the Layers panel, allowing you to go back and re-edit the colors at a later stage.

How To Correct Discolored Skin Tones In Photoshop

In some instances, a subject’s skin color could be discolored due to incorrect lighting used when taking the photo. Certain lights can also create a bluish or greenish tint, making people look off-color.

These tints can be corrected by sampling skin tones to apply to the image based on how you would like the subject’s skin tone to look. Following Unmesh Dinda’s technique, you can add in your chosen skin tone by sampling color. Here is a variation of this technique I like to use.

Step 1: Open Your Image

Open your image by navigating to File > Open. In the example, you can see the subject has a slight greenish tint to his skin which needs to be corrected. 

Step 2: Find The Right Hue For Your Image

For this method, you need to choose the correct skin color for your image. You can do this by finding the right RGB values online, or by downloading a skin tone color palette from online sites, such as Adobe Color.

If you have downloaded a color palette online, click and drag the file onto your image. This will be used as your reference point for correcting the skin tone. Decide on the skin tone in the color palette that best matches the correct skin tone you want your subject to have.

Step 3: Add A Curves Adjustment Layer

Add a Curves adjustment layer onto the image layer by selecting the curves icon in the Adjustments panel.

The layer should be above the image layer and below the skin tones palette layer. This ensures that you will be adjusting the colors on the image, rather than on the color palette layer. Make sure the curves icon is selected on the layer rather than the layer mask.

Step 4: Select The Target Color

The next step is to use the color dropper to select the skin tone you want the subject to have. To do this, double-click on the bottom eyedropper in the Curves Properties panel. 

The bottom-eyedropper will focus on the highlights in the image. If your image is darker and the original skin tone is not as light, you can select the middle-eyedropper to focus on the mid-tones in the image.

When the eyedropper is double-clicked, the Color Picker will open. Click on the area of the skin tone you want using the eyedropper. You can also type in the color values in the RGB section of the Color Picker.

Once the color is correctly selected, select OK on the Color Picker. Photoshop will give you the option to save the new colors as the default, select No if you don’t want the colors saved as defaults.

With the eyedropper still selected, click on the highlighted area of the subject’s skin to add a new color to the image.

The new color will be added to the subject’s face and possibly the rest of the image if the skin tones are close to the background color. This color may be too saturated as well since the skin tone palette is only meant to be a starting point to correct the skin tone.

Step 5: Reduce The Saturation Levels If Needed

To reduce the saturation levels on the image, double-click on the bottom eyedropper to open the Color Picker. Then select the Saturation option and drag the arrows down on the slider to reduce the saturation levels.

Once the Saturation level has been corrected, select OK on the color picker and select No on the pop-up asking to save the colors as the default.

Then with the eyedropper still selected, click on the same highlight area as before to add the new adjusted color to the subject’s skin.

The skin tone will now look correct, however, the entire image will have the new tint added to it, especially if the other colors in the image are similar to the original skin tones.

Step 6: Correct The Rest Of The Image Colors

To remove the Curves adjustment from the rest of the image, navigate to Select > Color Range.

Click on the drop-down menu next to Select and choose Skin tones.

Check the box next to Detect faces and increase the Fuzziness to 50. Then select OK.

Marching ants will appear around the areas of skin on the subject. Switch the selection to cover everything but the skin by pressing Control + Shift + I (Win) or Command +Shift + I (Mac).

Once the selection is inverted, click on the Curves layer mask and set your foreground color to black at the bottom of the toolbar. 

With the layer mask selected, press Alt + Delete (Win) or Option + Delete (Mac) to fill the active selection with black, making the skin tone adjustment only visible within the skin tones.

Then press Control + D (Win) or Command + D (Mac) to deselect the areas once you have filled the selection.

How To Change Skin Color Creatively In Photoshop

Even when the skin tones are correct, you can use Photoshop to change the skin tones to add creative effects. This can be used to create a fantasy-like feel to images. When altering skin tones to bolder colors, it is tricky to blend the skin without altering the areas around the skin as well.

Using a feathered brush, and adding a layer mask after selecting the right color will help blend the image and make the skin color change look more believable. To begin, open the image to begin changing the skin color to a fantasy-like tone.

One method of changing the skin tone is by adding a new Hue Adjustment layer. To do this, select the Hue/Saturation icon from the Adjustments panel.

In the Properties panel, use the Hue slider to select the color you want to change the skin color to. You will see the color appear on the image, although the entire image will change color. 

Next, make sure the layer mask on the Hue adjustment layer is selected, then select the Brush tool from the toolbar (B) and set the foreground color to black. When using layer masks, white hides the original layer, while black reveals areas on the original layer.

Open the Brush Preset picker and select a soft brush to use. Soft brushes are more feathered than hard brushes, allowing you to blend the image well.

With the brush selected, click and drag the brush over the image everywhere, except where the skin is showing. This will reveal the original colors of the rest of the image while keeping the skin tone the color that you have selected.

When brushing the areas close to the skin, lower the opacity of the brush on the Options bar. This will create a better blend for your image. Be sure to brush over the eyes and other areas where you don’t want the new color to show.

If you accidentally brush over areas of the skin, switch the foreground color back to white and brush over those areas to add the Hue adjustment again. Once you have carefully brushed over the other areas, you will be left with a subject that has a fantasy-like skin tone.

You can select the Hue adjustment layer from the Layers panel, at any stage in your editing process to change the color if you wish, and you can keep painting to fix up the layer mask if you notice issues at a later stage. If you want to get a more accurate selection of your subject’s skin, opt to use something like the Pen Tool or Quick Selection Tool to get the best result possible. The Brush Tool can get the job done, but maybe more tedious than you’d like.

Happy Editing!

Article By

Brendan Williams

Hey, I'm Brendan! I'm a professional photographer and photo retoucher who has spent the majority of his career shooting or retouching outdoor lifestyle and social media campaigns for brands like G-Adventures, xoxo Bella, P&G, Fitbit, Chevy, Tourism California, and more. These days I primarily focus my efforts on this site, creating guides and tutorials that I wish I had earlier in my career. Each week I publish new tutorials on Photography, Photoshop, Lightroom, and Canva to help you unlock new skills and bring your creativity to new levels! Everything you learn here is backed by real experience, so you can finally skip the fluff and focus only on what matters.

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