Foil vs Rotary Shavers: The Key Differences, Explained

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If you’re looking for a quick, clean and close shave, there are really only two main types of electric shavers you need to be familiar with:

Foil shavers and rotary shavers. 

Illustration of man using a foil and rotary shaver
You know what’s sad? This wordplay is better than that movie

Unfortunately for guys who are just getting into electric shaving, figuring out which one is best for you can be annoyingly difficult.

Each one comes with its own set of pluses and minuses, not to mention an army of evangelists who passionately argue for the merits of each. 

There are some guys who swear on their mother’s life that a rotary razor is the absolute best shaver, while others claim that foil heads give a smoother, closer shave. 

So to help you figure out which type of electric shaver might be right for you, in this post we’ll dive deep into the rotary vs foil shavers debate, and break down all the main differences between the two.

Rotary vs Foil Shaver Breakdown

What’s the difference between rotary and foil shavers? Well…

First Up:

Foil Shavers 

What are foil shavers? 

Close up of a foil shaver
Foil shavers have thin pieces of metal that help lift your hair, so the blades below can cut them
[image: Panasonic}

Foil shavers are electric razors equipped with thin sheets of metal foil, which cover a series of cutting blades. 

As the shaver moves over the skin, the foil helps to lift and cut hairs, resulting in a close, precise shave. 

Foil shavers are generally best suited for men with straight or slightly curved hairs, as they sometimes have trouble cutting coarse, curly hairs.


How does a foil shaver work?

Illustration of the inside of a foil shaver
[image: Panasonic]

This type of shaver works by oscillating its sharp blades back and forth at high speed under the foil. 

The foil catches and cuts the hairs as the shaver’s head moves over the surface area of the skin, and the hairs pass through the foil’s tiny holes. 


How close can a foil shaver get?

Man shaving with foil shaver
[image: Braun]

Quite close. 

One of the main benefits of foil shavers is that they provide a closer, more precise shave than rotary shavers. 

They’re also typically quieter and easier to clean, as the foil can be easily removed and washed. 

But as mentioned above, some guys find that rotary razors actually provide a closer shave, so the results will vary depending on an individual’s skin type and sensitivity.


Foil Shaver Benefits:

Closeness: 

Foil shavers are known for providing a close, smooth shave. 

Quiet & Comfort: 

Foil shavers are generally quieter and lighter than rotary shavers, which can make them more comfortable to use.

Ease of Use: 

Foil shavers are typically easier to clean and maintain than rotary shavers. They also tend to be more straightforward to use, with fewer parts to worry about.

Versatility: 

Foil shavers can be used on a variety of beard types and lengths, and they are effective at cutting both long and short hairs. 

They also tend to work better on other types of body hair, which means you don’t necessarily have to invest in a separate trimmer for other parts of your body. 

Durability: 

They tend to be more durable than rotary shavers, and they can last longer with proper care and maintenance.


Foil Shaver Drawbacks: 

Less effective at cutting long hair: 

Foil shavers are designed to cut facial hair that’s 1.5mm or shorter in length, so they may not be as effective at cutting longer hairs.

Could be less comfortable: 

Some people find that foil shavers can be less comfortable to use, especially if you have sensitive skin or are prone to razor burn.

May be more expensive: 

While prices vary and cheaper models are definitely available, the top-of-the-line foil shavers tend to be more expensive than their rotary counterparts, so they may not be the most budget-friendly option.

More maintenance: 

Foil shavers may need to have their foils replaced more frequently than rotary shavers, which can be an additional cost.

Contact with skin: 

Depending on the model you use, some foil shavers can be tricky to move in different directions while maintaining contact with the skin’s surface. 

That means they may not adhere as closely to the contours of your face, especially around the chin or jawline. 


What are the best foil shavers?

We put together a whole round up of the best foil shavers on the market, which is worth checking out if you’re interested in going this route. 

But if you don’t have time to read that whole post, here are our top three choices:

Best Value ↓
Panasonic Arc 5 ES-LV97-K
Panasonic Arc 5 ES-LV97-K
Rating: 
  • 4.5 Stars
    • 3,920 Reviews
Promising Review: 

This razor is out of this world. I spend a lot of time researching electric shavers, and I found myself circling back to this particular shaver…

It’s the best shaver I’ve ever owned in my life, and the shave itself is so close it’s hard to believe it’s an electric shaver. 

James Keister

Check Price ➤


Highest Quality & Overall Best ↓
Panasonic Arc 6 ES-LS9A-K
Panasonic Arc 6 ES-LS9A-K
Rating: 
  • 4.5 Stars
    • 17 Reviews
Promising Review: 

 It’s expensive, but it’s the best foil shaver you can buy. 

The Panasonic ARC6 is a fantastic shaver. It’s clearly better than either the previous generation ARC5 or the Braun Series 7 (itself similar to the Braun Series 9).

…It requires less work to fully clear the hair down to the skin line, it is more comfortable on longer hairs, and it does a better job on the Adam’s Apple region of my face than either.

David Pearlman

Check Price ➤


Best for Sensitive Skin ↓
Braun Series 9 9390cc
Braun Series 9 9390cc
Rating: 
  • 4.5 Stars
    • 2,937 Reviews
Promising Review: 

This electric razor is awesome!! I have ultra sensitive skin. I have tried everything that would help with that. I finally got tired enough of ingrown hairs and razor burn to buy this awesome machine.

Normally, with a standard razor I can feel the razor burn immediately. With the Braun series 9, nothing! This will save me a ton of time… I will never buy a standard razor again! 

Eric Hunt

Check Price ➤


Next:

Rotary Electric Shavers 

What are rotary electric razors? 

Rotary shaver sitting on a desk

Unlike foil shavers, rotary shavers use circular blades that move in a (you guessed it) circular motion to cut hairs. 

These shavers are generally better suited for men with coarser, curly hair, as the circular blades can more easily follow the contours of the face. 

Rotary shavers are also typically more gentle on the skin, making them a good choice for men with sensitive skin.


How does a rotary shaver work?

Close up of the blades of a rotary shaver
As their name implies, rotary shavers have rotating blades mounted on a circular foil
[image: Philips Norelco]

A rotary shaver typically consists of a round shaver head with three or four rotating blades. 

The blades are mounted on a circular foil or screen, which is perforated with a number of small holes. 

The rotating blades are powered by a small electric motor, which is usually located in the handle of the shaver. 

The motor drives a small gear, which in turn rotates the blades.

Some rotary shavers also come with an additional trimmer on the side of the head, which you can use for cutting longer hairs or performing detail work around your sideburns or mustache.


How close can a rotary shaver get?

Man shaving his neck with rotary shaver
[image: Philips Norelco]

Not quite as close as a foil shaver, usually. 

Rotary shavers are typically better at handling longer or curved hairs and are generally easier to use on the contours of the face. 

But they may not cut as close to the skin as a manual razor blade or foil shaver, which means they don’t always provide the closest shave. 

With that said, it’s important to note that the closeness of the shave is also influenced by factors such as the quality of the shaver, the technique used to shave, and the individual’s beard type and skin type. 

Some people may find that a rotary shaver gives them a close enough shave, while others may prefer the closer shave provided by a traditional razor or foil shaver.


Rotary Shaver Benefits:

Ease of Use: 

Rotary shavers are generally easier to use than safety razor blades and foil shavers because the circular heads make it easy to adhere to your face and maintain contact with the skin’s surface.

Comfort: 

Rotary shavers can be more comfortable to use, as they typically cause less irritation to the skin than blade or foil shavers.

Versatility: 

Rotary shavers can be used on a variety of beard lengths and types. They’re particularly effective at handling long, curved and coarse hair, but can also be used for short hair.  

Convenience: 

Rotary shavers are generally cordless and can be used for either wet shaving or dry shaving, making them convenient for use in the shower or on the go.

Cost: 

Rotary shavers can be less expensive to purchase and maintain than traditional razors or foil shavers.


Rotary Shaver Drawbacks:

Not Quite as Close: 

As mentioned earlier, rotary shavers may not provide as close of a shave as a blade or foil shaver, even if they come with a flexible head. 

Less Efficiency: 

Rotary shavers may take longer to shave certain areas, as they rely on the rotation of the blades to cut hairs. 

And as I alluded to above, this can be especially true for thicker, denser and coarser hair.

More Maintenance: 

Rotary shavers may require more maintenance than blade or foil shavers, as the blades may need to be replaced more frequently and the shaver may need to be cleaned more often.

More Noise: 

Rotary shavers can be louder than blade or foil shavers.

Can’t Cut a Straight Line: 

While the oscillating blades on the rotary heads provide a comfortable shave, it’s basically impossible to use a spinning blade to shave in a straight line. 

That means rotary shavers can’t be used for detail work around your sideburns and mustache, unless they come with a separate attachment. 

It’s important to note that the drawbacks of a rotary shaver may vary depending on your preferences, needs and skin sensitivity. 

Some people may not mind the slightly less close shave or the maintenance requirements of a rotary shaver, while others may prefer the closer shave and lower maintenance of a blade or foil shaver.


What are the best rotary shavers?

Just as we did with foil shavers, we put together a whole post breaking down the best rotary shavers on the market

Here are our favorite models for daily use:  

Overall Best ↓
Philips Norelco 9000 Prestige
Philips Norelco 9000 Prestige
Rating: 
  • 4.6 Stars
    • 3,236 Reviews
Promising Review: 

LThe 9000 Prestige shaves incredibly close (I use closeness setting 2), literally glides over your skin, and if it was any quieter, it would be silent. 

You get 100 minutes on a full charge and it recharges in an hour. The display is easy to read and gives you the complete status of your razor. It is very well balanced and feels great in your hand…

You owe it to indulge yourself and splurge on the 9000 Prestige.

Barry

Check Price ➤


Highest Quality ↓
Philips Norelco Shaver 9800
Philips Norelco Shaver 9800
Rating: 
  • 4.6 Stars
    • 802 Reviews 
Promising Review: 

I have used several Philips razors and this by far is the best! 

I like the color coded light on the head that indicates the right amount of pressure for a nice close shave. The trimmer is easy to use too!

Phils2888

Check Price ➤


Best Value ↓
Philips Norelco Shaver 9500
Philips Norelco Shaver 9500
Rating: 
  • 4.6 Stars
    • 802 Reviews
Promising Review: 

Switched from Braun that was irritating my skin while leaving stubble even with aggressive “scrubbing”. The Norelco is gentle, quiet, and gives a much closer shave in half the time. 

David Becker

Check Price ➤


So…

How do I choose between a rotary and a foil shaver?

foil shaver

🤔

Rotary shaver

Ultimately, choosing the best electric shaver for you depends on your individual grooming needs, and (to a certain extent) your own personal preference. 

If you have straight or slightly curved hairs and are looking for a close, precise shave, a foil shaver may be the way to go. 

If you have coarse, curly or thick hair and are looking for a more gentle shave, a rotary shaver may be a better choice.


FAQ


More Resources ↓
More Men’s Style Advice & Grooming Tips From Irreverent Gent:

Resident Irreverent Gent grooming expert Geoff Hayes is a Toronto-based writer, baseball fan and craft beer aficionado (though not always in that order).

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