You will often come across photos where the content is great, but the skin tones are off. Perhaps the person was turned a little too far one way and the light is bouncing off and creating a harsh spot. Maybe you want to add a slight tan—a realistic tan, not something akin to an orange. Whatever the reason, changing skin tones can be tricky.

Is it hard? Not really. Most of the work can be done by Photoshop’s own intelligence, which it does an excellent job of. Once Photoshop takes care of the brunt of the work, you can finish off with some manual fixes.

How to Change Skin Tone in Photoshop

This guide is going to focus on fixing skin tone, like the saturation and color correcting, rather than changing someone’s skin color from dark to light. What’s going to really help you, however, is having a reference image. Before you move forward, grab an image of someone that has a skin tone that’s nearly identical or as close as.

1. Your first move is to create a new layer, but just any layer: a Selective Color layer. Click on your original layer and pick Layer in the top left corner. In the drop down menu, go down to New Adjustment Layer and choose Selective Color.

2. When naming your new layer, you can keep it as is. Click OK to create it. Now select your Selective Color layer.

3. See the dialogue box? Click on the Properties tab. Change Colors to Red. No matter what skin tone someone has, red is the base.

Now, what do you do with the sliders? It’s better to explain how each color affects the final product. Each one will be adjusted, no matter what skin tone someone has.

The Cyan slider is best served for adding more red to the skin tone. If you move it further to the left, more red is added. Sliding it to the right will dampen the red with cyan. Moving it further to the right will give the skin tone a more washed out look. As for Magenta and Yellow, the same applies as the Cyan slider. However, the Black slider will directly impact how dark the skin appears.

4. Here is where the reference image comes in handy. Place the reference image near your original image.

Warning: Keep your reference image layer above your original image.

5. Now take those sliders and adjust them until it closely matches the reference image. Chances are you will put your cursor on every single slider.

6. Once the skin tone is where you want it to be, finish off by fiddling with the opacity. Go over to your layers panel. Set the Opacity somewhere between 75 percent or 85 percent. However, you can also leave it be if the skin tone is perfect. Use your best judgement.

Note: Dropping the opacity down a bit will revitalize the skin and bring back some of the original color.

Bottom Line

As you can see, the real MVP here is Photoshop. You don’t have to mess with the exposure, gamma correction or creating hundreds of layers; all it takes is a bit of color correction. But here’s a tip: once you’ve finished changing the skin tone, step away from the computer. After a few minutes, come back and see if it still looks good. Sometimes sitting on your work for a few moments can clear your head.