Alright, guys: it’s time to reveal the difference between Foil vs rotary shavers. Once and for all.
Personally, I’ve used both types for quite some time. In fact, I’m currently grooming myself using both a rotary shaver and a foil one.
Here they are: Foil vs rotary shavers, a trusty Norelco 5000 series from Amazon.com (rotary) and the barbers’ favorite Andis Profoil Lithium from Amazon.com (foil):
I would like to note that I’m mainly using them to shave my head. Diffuse thinning works like that, sadly.
If you’re wondering which one works better for my head, the edge goes to the Andis. I would say foil in general works better at cutting had hair, but the design has some disadvantages that I will go into later in the article. But, for getting really close and for a more comfortable experience I prefer the Andis.
However, when I decide I’m too lazy for a razor or my T Outliner trimmer, I go for the face too.
Honestly – I need to keep it as close to bald as possible, and my facial hair grows like a bush in no time. Without these I’ll be the ugliest caveman you’ll see.
Do note that these are my current personal choices. There’s plenty of other models that rock.
If you value premium, extra smooth grooming, the Braun 790cc from Amazon.com is the King of foil shavers. Norelco’s higher end rotaries are outstanding too, I used their 8900 back in the day.
Wahl’s foil shavers like the 5 Star Shaver Shaper from Amazon.com deliver great results, but they’re more suited for head shaving or fade finishes.
Both Andis and Wahl electric shavers are mainly used in shops. Though they work awesome whether we are talking about professional or home use. It’s just the other big name in electric shavers, namely Braun, has all the bells and whistles that make it easy to understand how it became so popular for guys to use at home.
Though Braun might make the best foil shavers for the home, they don’t quite work in a professional setting. Which is why so many barbers will have the Andis Profoil on hand. It can stand up to some rigorous use in the shop.
Anyways. Onwards to how Foil vs rotary shavers differ from each other!
Overview: Foil vs Rotary Shavers
|Andis Cordless ||Check Price on Amazon.com|
|Philips Norelco Electric Shaver 5100 ||Check Price on Amazon.com|
3 main differences between foil vs rotary shavers
#1 How their blades move
It’s all in the cutting heads and their motions.
Take a look at my Profoil Lithium’s foil blades – they’re an industry standard:
Looks like something that can’t wait to go ham on your skin in Foil vs rotary shavers, right?
Don’t worry. Surprisingly to some, foil shavers tend to be gentler on the skin. The foil exterior that covers the sharp blades beneath it is to thank for that.
It’s so thin that it just glides over the face. The metal discs on the rotary razors is thicker and has a rougher exterior. The buffer and range of motion on the rotary does help, but the foil ones are simply much more comfortable.
There is more surface area and less exposure to the blades underneath than you see with rotary. This offers up a nice glide across your face with little irritation. That doesn’t mean that using a foil doesn’t cut as close, though. It will give you as close a shave as a rotary. They just work differently.
You can’t see the blades, but if you disassembled any foil electric shaver, you’d see they move back and forth. There are no circular motions.
Which means that you have to follow the same motions when you groom yourself. Otherwise you’d receive a not-so-pleasant razor burn surprise, even if you have tougher skin.
Just use the electric razor in up and down motions. Don’t go side to side or in circles as it is not at all effective besides the razor burn risk I just mentioned. I will guarantee that guys that say that foil razors irritate their face that they are just not using them properly. It is highly unlikely that a foil razor would irritate and a rotary would not.
Alright, let’s move on to the rotary shaver. Once again, my Norelco 5000 series is representative of how rotary blades work:
This one looks a bit scary too, right? Three discs that spin like crazy just to deliver a close-cutting experience.
You can see from the picture that there is much less surface area covering the blades as there is with a foil. This means that it isn’t quite as easy on the skin as a foil shaver. This really only applies to people with sensitive skin, though. On most people, it will feel smooth and not at all uncomfortable. I have sensitive skin so it took me a while to find this rotary shaver that doesn’t give me razor burn.
Remember – shaving with an electric shaver is all about following how the product was designed.
So, unlike foil shavers, you’ll be working in a circular motion.
Don’t go up and down or back and forth – this is a surefire way to cause some nasty irritations.
#2 How they follow your face or head’s contours
Foil shavers are quite rigid in conforming to all the peculiar features of our faces or heads.
There are models that do have a sort of buffer or suspension under the blades. They give a little bit of cushion so you won’t risk razor burn if you push a little harder than you should. They also have a little bit of contour conforming property, but not nearly as much as the rotary. They can move up and down or side to side to provide that bit of comfort and maintain contact with the skin.
I did a quick time experiment. I wanted to see what difference would there be between shaving my head bald with a rotary shaver, and doing that with a foil one.
The foil took almost twice the time due to this exact reason: not conforming to my contours/shapes properly.
You should have also seen my weird movements when trying to get the shaver to work properly on the trickier spots. It’s pure hell.
This is where the edge in comfort and being gentle on sensitive skin is negated. If you have to keep going over the same spot multiple times to get the stubble down, then it’s inevitable that you’ll end up with some discomfort or irritation.
For face grooming, rotary shavers are way better if you have a lot of hair growth around your neck. That area is the bane of most foil shavers – they perform way better on flatter surfaces like your cheeks.
If it’s about shaving your head and you have a more…complicated head shape like me, they make more sense too.
This is why if I were going to recommend a foil razor for home I would say go for any Braun electric razor over the Andis Profoil. The Braun will work better on the face and around the contours of the head. But the profoil can withstand the rigors of being used all day in a shop. Especially when doing skin fades. It just doesn’t compare when using it yourself on your own face as a Braun.
The way those rotating shaver heads flex and bend is a godsend in such situations. Foil shavers can cope, yes, but they’ll take way more time and leave you frustrated.
#3 Actual hair cutting and cleaning
Obviously, this varies across brands, models and prices. A high end rotary shaver will be better than a cheap foil one, but…
…As a whole, shaving your face or head with a foil shaver will yield closer, more accurate results.
Whenever I’ve worked with a rotary, I’ve needed to go a few times on some areas.
That is the biggest reason why you end up with irritation with rotary razors. You want to cut the stubble down as close as possible in the fewest amount of steps. You’re also tempted to push down on the razor feeling like that helps to shave the hair closer. When actually it is making the shaver less effective and you are again increasing the risk of razor burn.
In terms of going bald with a foil shaver, there’s always been that smooth feeling everybody loves.
Cheaper foil shavers can be frustrating to clean, though. I need to brush hair away with my Andis foil shaver all the time.
This is true for Wahl shavers too, actually, as noted in a comparison we did here.
UPDATE: I’ve started using a can of compressed air to clean the hair off of my foil razor. I just pop off the top and blow the air for a couple of seconds and it gets rid of 90% of the hair. I still need a small brush to get the remaining hair. This saves time and is way more effective.
Rotaries usually pop up like my Norelco’s mechanism:
The “compartments” beneath the spinning head can hold quite a bit of hair. Especially if you’re going for the face, not shaving your head with a rotary.
On top of that, you just need a quick rinse and you’re done.
More expensive foil shavers like the Braun 790cc, however, come with cleaning stations. Or models like the Panasonic Arc5 LV95 from Amazon.com come with automatic cleaning bells and whistles!
This is a direct solution to some cleaning frustrations you might have.
Rotary or foil electric shaver for sensitive skin?
Again, this depends on models. Naturally, some higher end models will offer gentler cutting and extra protection.
On top of that, those shavers who have a “Wet/Dry Operation” label will allow you to sprinkle some shaving cream and shave with that.
People with extra sensitive skin will love this feature.
As I mentioned, usually people say that foil shavers are gentler on facial skin or when you’re shaving your head.
There are also preshave oils and creams for use specifically with electric shavers if you don’t want to deal with a glob of shaving cream. You only need a very thin layer to avoid razor burn and there is very little mess or fuss this way.
The funny thing is, for me it’s exactly the opposite. My foil shaver – probably due to its ultra strong motor, is a little bit rougher than the Norelco rotary.
So what I usually do is go for bulk facial hair/scalp hair cutting with the rotary shaver. For final “polishing” and extra smooth results, I do a quick run with the foil.
For those of you who’re looking for a balding electric shaver…I have a feeling you gentlemen will want to sport a glorious beard.
Remember to ensure it grows healthy.
Truth be told, I use that Jojoba oil on my freshly shaved head too!
What about a foil shaver for my pubic hair?
I’ve had a few people who were curious whether the foil shaver for balls is a thing.
Both rotary shavers and foil ones are not suitable for grooming down there. Well, not if you like cuts and pain, anyways.
The strong, up-and-down motions of the foil electrics are especially incompatible.
Do yourself a favor and go for a proper pubic hair trimmer in this case. You won’t regret it.
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Really nice and detailed comparison of foil and rotary electric shavers. How about price ranges is it worth paying few hundred dollars for high-end Braun or Philips models or some way more affordable Chinese shavers are good enough too?
Thanks for the message. Without a doubt, the high-end shavers will offer you more value. They’re made of higher-quality materials and trim the hair more precisely without leaving you with razor bumps. Better yet, some of the fancy models today can even be used in the shower so you can shave with shaving cream. There are, of course, plenty of reasonably priced models and home-trimmers that will offer you a great shave without breaking the bank. In fact, we review many of them on our site.
Hello. I currently use clippers with size zero blades for my scalp and wet shave with double-edged safety razor to shape my beard. I find that I need to shave my neck and cheeks more often to keep a nice looking beard.
I was considering an electric shaver. Do I need two? One for my scalp and another for my neck and cheeks?
You can definitely use the same electric shaver for your head and face. You just have to make sure that the hair on your head is not longer than stubble. Are you going for the bald look? The electric shaver is going to go all the way down to the skin as opposed to the 0 blade that you’ve been using on your head. And, believe me there is a difference. Not that it looks bad or anything, but you may like having that stubble on your head.
Great article. I sell and buy shavers on eBay, and my personal choice is foil. Over the past 50 years, I’ve realized the most consistent shavers are electric, not battery rechargeable. It is tough, though, to find, and compete price-wise, for new old stock electric shavers like the Remington XLR series…likely the best foil shaver made. Unlike today’s battery shavers, it is AC powered, runs on 60 cycles, and was a heavy, but durable, made in USA product. But people are in a hurry I guess and don’t have an outlet always available, so battery shavers are fine…I just prefer electric’s convenience of no discharging/discarding of the shaver…thanks again for the good article, and what you say is very accurate…I found out quickly foil was best for me.
I went to electric and started with a Norelco 2800 which was great as it was only about $25, but then the replacement blades were the same price as a new razor! I did some research and decided to try a foil this time. I was very disappointed as I didn’t know that foil razors, or at least the one I got, the Remington 5100 PF7855, DON’T CATCH HAIR! I’m getting cut bits of hair all over my clothes and the floor! My Norelco captured all cut hair in the compartment, and I would open it out over the bin for clean up. This new foil razor is a mess all over. I should mention I take my shaver in my bag and shave while doing other things, reading on the couch or in bed, cooking a meal, or driving. I do this for efficiency but the mess the foil leaves makes it totally inefficient. I thought this a significant difference between the two types of razor.