Foil vs. Rotary Shavers: What Gives the Closest Shave?

Male shaving
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When it’s time to shave, you want to get as close and comfortable as possible. Fortunately, the best electric shavers are capable of providing both, giving you a perfectly smooth shave with no skin irritation.

While some prefer a close shave and others like a 3-day stubble beard, we all need the closest shave possible to better define those edges and make it look neatly symmetric from one side to another.

But given that there are two types of electric shavers – foil and rotary, many people ask which one of the two provides the closest shave in the most comfortable way possible?

The answer is unfortunately not that simple, as it depends on what type of facial hair you have, but hopefully this guide will help you get an understanding of what works best for you.

The summary

Foil shavers are best for:

  • Those looking for a close daily shave.
  • Those with a coarse, thick beard.
  • Lining your edges and other precision work.
  • Long, flat-lying hairs – they lift and cut most hairs easily.
  • Ingrown hairs.

Best overall

Braun Series 9 9370cc

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Best value

Panasonic Arc5 ES-LV65-S

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Rotary shavers are best for:

  • Those looking for an overall comfortable shave.
  • Those with a light beard.
  • Long, wiry hair.
  • Going around facial contours like nose, chin, jaw lines.
  • Those seeking a quieter and smoother experience during shaving.

Best overall

Philips Norelco S9721/89

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Best value

Philips Norelco 6880/81

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Questions? Ask our experts:

The breakdown

How did we find the closest shave?

At ConsumerJar we researched for hours, to understand the biggest differences between foil shavers and rotary shavers. We sought out similarities across thousands of user reviews and expert reviews from reputable sources, to learn more about trends, popular shavers, and what most people define as the best shaver for their needs.

25

Products reviewed

We reviewed 25 products, and went through their features and user ratings to understand what makes some of them better than other.

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Expert reviews analyzed

We also read through a number of reputable expert reviews to learn how they rank shavers, and what shavers are considered their top picks. These sources include Wirecutter, Business Insider, ShaverCheck, Men’s Health, Balding Beards, Forbes, and GQ.

46993

User ratings analyzed

This is the total number of user ratings, we based our research on. By analyzing user reviews, we were able to get insights into the things users liked and disliked, and why they chose a specific foil / rotary shaver. Sources include Amazon, Target, Walmart, and Overstock.

The complete walkthrough

Foil vs. Rotary Shavers – What’s the Difference? 

Before delving into the main question, here are the key differences between the two types. Understanding the key differences between the two will help you make an informed decision on which one is right for you.

First things first – both foil and rotary shavers are powered by batteries or can be plugged into an electric outlet or both to work. 

Foil Shavers Explained

Foil shavers were first introduced in the early 1930 by Col. Jacob Schick. He patented the first electric razor, when trying to find a solution to shave with one injured arm. But it wasn’t a bestseller from the get go owing to its limited functionality and bulky design. 

However, foil shavers over the past few decades have been greatly improved. Today, they are much more convenient and easier to use. Foil shavers are aptly named, because their blades are covered with foils. These foils are simply razor thin sheets of metal with tiny holes in them. 

When powered on, these tiny holes in the foils allow the hair to enter the shaver. The hair is then simultaneously cut by the set of oscillating blades located behind them aka cutters. The oscillation motion of the foil shaver blades is similar to that of a lawn mower or fan’s blades. 

Since foil shaver blades move in an oscillating motion, this type of electric shaver generally works well when used in a straight line from side to side or up and down. 

Foil shavers are a great if you want to:

  • Line your edges
  • Shave daily and have sensitive skin

Foil shavers are easy on your skin, and make it easier to get a close shave, because they cut the hair through the foils without yanking on it. Adding to this, they are also easy to use in hard to reach areas, owing to the way the foils are placed such as:

  • Under the nose or near the sideburns
  • For edging and lines 

Foil shavers also work quickly compared to their rotary counterparts. Reason being, it’s easier to move them from side to side. So, you don’t have to maneuver the shaver over the same area multiple times. 

This type of electric shaver is designed to remove the shortest stubble, but also flat-lying and ingrown hairs that need to be lifted in order to cut them. This makes them a great choice for:

  • Men with coarse, thick beards
  • Men with flat-lying, ingrown hairs
  • Men who like a clean and quick daily shave

Foil shavers also work great on coarse hair with a single pass. This is possible due to the varying patterns on each foil. Furthermore, they mostly come with several accessories including combs to help guide your hair for a better shave.

They are also easy to clean and maintain. The best foil shaver models can even be run under water to get rid of the stuck hair and shaving cream. Foil shavers are mostly the preferred choice for men looking for the closest shave, “BUT” there are exceptions.

Some drawbacks of foil shavers:

  • Foil shavers are generally noisier than rotary shavers. 
  • The up and down motion of the blades of a foil shaver may not work great for everyone, e.g. those with light, long, wiry hairs, that usually need you to glide from multiple directions to get them all. 

Foil shavers also don’t always provide a close shave. This is especially when used over long hair as it gets trapped in the foils of the shaver. You also need to be gentle when running a foil shaver across your face. This is because it can cause skin irritation when pressed against your skin.

And last, but not least, it does vibrate and generate a considerable amount of noise, which can be annoying to some people.

Rotary Shavers Explained

Unlike foil shavers, rotary shavers are fitted with round heads. These heads are embedded with circular blades, which are collectively designed as three discs. Philips, the Dutch multinational company bills itself as the pioneers of the rotary shaver. Hence, you’ll find a wide range of shavers with different designs from this brand aimed at a wide range of users. 

The spinning heads of rotary shavers are engineered to closely follow the contours of your face. They do this as you move the shaver in a circular motion. The hair is cut as it slips into the openings in the heads of a rotary shaver. They are then cut off completely, similarly to the foils with holes in foil shavers. 

The rounded heads of a rotary shaver make it easy to maneuver the device around the difficult areas of your face such as:

  • The neck 
  • Chin
  • Jaw lines
  • Other contoured areas

This type of electric shavers is an ideal choice for:

  • Those who have thin, and/or light facial hair
  • Longer, wiry hairs that aren’t shaved daily
  • Those who don’t shave on a daily basis

The three circular blades of a rotary shavers will spin and flex to closely follow the contours of your face, and give you a close shave. At most times, they do a better job than foil shavers would when used over longer hair. This is especially true when trying to follow the outline of your face, jaw lines, chin, and neck.

Adding to this, rotary shavers are also a great choice for those with:

  • High cheekbones
  • Sharp jawline 
  • Prominent Adam’s apple

And because the individual shaving heads can flex inwards, rotary shavers can easily adapt to the shape of your head. This makes them an ideal choice for bald head shaving too. 

Contrary to foil shavers, rotary electric shavers are also quieter to operate. This allows you to get the close shave you desire without waking up the entire house. On the flipside, some rotary shavers are a bit challenging to clean. The shaving head may require a few additional steps to take off, and it may not be as easy as foil shaver’s heads, that usually come off by simply pulling it.

Even though they may work great for longer hair, they may not offer the same performance when it comes to cutting straight, flat-lying or ingrown hair. This is due to the independent rotation of the heads, and the round design makes it unable to “lift” hairs up.

Do Foil or Rotary Shavers Provide the Best Shave? Final Thoughts

To answer your question on whether rotary or foil electric shavers provide the closest shave; it truly depends on:

  • The type of hair you have
  • The style you’re looking to achieve

Foil shavers work well at lining edges and getting to some hard to reach areaas, owing to the side to side motion of the foil topped blades. But due to the design, it may not be able to follow your contours as well as rotary shavers, and you might have to move it over the same area more times than if you were using a rotary shaver.

Therefore, repeated use over the same area may cause skin irritation. Further, they may also not provide a close shave if you have high cheekbones or other contoured areas. This is because of the straight heads and oscillating cutting motion. 

If you have:

  • Longer, wiry hairs
  • Curved shaped face
  • Or you want to shave your head bald

A rotary shaver will most likely deliver better results. This type of shaver is appointed with three independent blades that rotate in circular motion. This makes it easier to achieve a close shave when trying to follow the outline of your face, neck and top of your head.

You Have to Clean the Shaver Periodically for the Closest Shave

Once you’ve determined the best electric shaver for your needs, there are a few other things you can do to ensure you get the closest shave as possible. For starters, hair is bound to get stuck in the blades of both foil and electric shavers. This will obviously prevent them from delivering close cuts. 

Therefore, it is important to read the manufacturer instructions on how to clean your electric shaver for a close shave and long service life. Most electric shavers do need to be lubricated every so often to remove the dirt buildups. They also need to be cleaned to get rid of the excess hair stuck in the blades of the shaver. 

Don’t Forget About the Batteries 

Electric foil and rotary shavers are typically powered by batteries. These generally come with the shavers, and should be fully charged in order for the blades work their best. When battery juice is low, slow moving blades aren’t going to cut near as close as fast-moving blades. 

And in fact, using them in this low-powered state may cause the hair to get stuck, consequently affecting the longevity of the device. Just like manual razors, the blades of foil and rotary shavers do tend to go dull over time. Hence, they will need replacement after a certain period of time. 

Getting Used to Your Shaver Takes Some Practice

Also, worth mentioning is that you will have to adjust the pressure, angle and direction of your electric shaver according to your needs. You need to do this especially when shaving areas such as your neck chin or jawline. 

If you’re just making the switch to electric shavers, it will take a bit of practice to get used to, and achieve a close shave. But when used properly, be rest assured that both foil and rotary shavers are capable of providing you with that clean and smooth shave each time. 

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