Foil vs. Rotary Shavers: Here are All the Differences

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Electric shavers come in two types: foil and rotary.

Below is a look at how each differs from one another.  This includes reviewing a foil and rotary’s cutting motion, expected performance, popular brands, how to use them, and price differences.

Let’s take a look:

Cutting Motion

The most significant difference between these two electric shavers is their cutting motion.  Here’s why:

Foil Electric Shaver

An electric shaver with a foil head cuts the facial hair in an oscillating motion.  This means that beneath the foil screen, there are fast-moving blades that move left to right.  Here’s an example diagram to illustrate this:

How a Foil Shaver Cuts Hair Diagram

The vertical red lines represent the cutting blades.  Each blade moves back and forth, noted by the arrows, and cuts hair that enters the circular foil mesh.

The rate at which the blades cut is often measured in shaving efficiency or micro-vibrations.  This metric may vary depending on the brand. Most modern foil electric shavers can cut at a rate of up to 40,000 cross-cutting actions per minute.

Rotary Electric Shaver

The rotary shaver cuts facial hair in a circular motion.  Many like to compare the mechanics of the rotary electric shaver to a weed whacker:

How a Rotary Shaver Cuts Hair Diagram

Like the foil shaver, hair is fed into the circular opening on each of the heads for cutting.  The number of rotary cutting heads found on an electric shaver can range from two to six – however, most rotary shavers only contain three cutting heads. 

Due to mechanical limitations, rotary shavers cannot provide nearly as smooth results compared to a foil electric shaver.  However, the difference is minimal.

Key Takeaway

Both shavers cut hair in different directions.  This will lead to different results when it comes to the closeness of the shave.  Additionally, they require different operational techniques – which we will explore next.

How to Use a Foil and Rotary Shaver

Foil and rotary shavers require different motions to perform; here’s an overview:

Foil Electric Shaver

The rectangular head on the foil shaver restricts its movement to only short and straight directional strokes.

Shaving in this direction will be much more natural, especially if you transition from a safety or cartridge razor.  

Rotary Electric Shaver

The rotary shaver requires that you pass the cutting head in a circular motion when shaving.

Passing the shaver in a circular motion may take just a few shaves before you get the hang of it – so don’t get discouraged after your first use!

Both Shavers

Regardless of type, the electric shaver should be held perpendicular to the surface of your skin (at a 90° angle).  The shaving area should be held taut with your free hand.

Leading brands of both foil and rotary electric shavers recommend that you pass the electric shaver against the grain.

Mobility

Beyond the mechanical differences between foil and rotary shavers, you should also be aware of each razor system’s mobility:

Foil Electric Shaver

The foil shaver head is a large rectangular block.  This makes navigating tight contours, particularly around the nose, much more difficult.  While some foil shaver brands offer pivoting motion in the heads to improve mobility, this isn’t enough to counteract the head’s core design.  

Ultimately, you should expect to make repeated passes or, in severe cases, use a separate cartridge razor to clean details. This may not be an issue depending on your facial hair’s growth pattern and density.

Rotary Electric Shaver 

Mobility is the most prominent advantage for rotary electric shavers.  The smaller, circular heads allow them to navigate tight contours and work areas around the nose.  

Key Takeaway

This decision is a compromise when comparing both systems.  If you want smooth results and don’t mind potentially detailing a cartridge razor, then a foil shaver can work for you.  Should you prefer one device for all areas of your face and don’t mind any residue stubble, then consider a rotary shaver.

Skin Compatibility & Facial Hair Density

Your skin is unique to you.  Therefore, it is best to rely on your judgment to determine which razor system makes sense.

Generally, you will want to keep the following in mind:

For Men with Acne

If you experience regular outbreaks of acne, then it is recommended that you clean your electric shaver often.  Many modern brands make shavers that are fully waterproof and can be cleaned with warm, soapy water.  

Rather than doing the manual work, some shavers, particularly those made by Braun, have a complimentary cleaning system that is alcohol-based and will remove bacteria from the cutting blades after every use.  

For Men with Sensitive Skin

Should you have sensitive skin, consider an electric shaver with a stronger motor that outputs a higher cutting power or shave efficiency.  Regardless of the system, you want to achieve your shave in as few passes as possible.  

Using your electric shaver with a shaving cream may provide more comfortable results as well.

For Men Susceptible to Razor Bumps

Men with tight, curly facial hair are more likely to develop razor bumps (ingrown hairs).  A foil shaver should cut the hair much cleaner so it can safely exit the skin as it regrows.  However, the best way to avoid razor bumps is to use a stubble trimmer or beard trimmer.  

They cut just a fraction above the surface, so the hair never has a chance of growing inwards.

Versatility

Generally, both the foil and rotary shaver are best used for facial hair only – that’s what they were designed for.  Men who regularly manscape by shaving their chest, underarms, legs, or pubic area may attempt to use these devices for such use.

Do know that body hair is often thicker and longer than facial hair.  Therefore, there may be some pulling on the root, which may cause irritation or pain.  Additionally, electric shavers are only capable of cutting down to skin level.  Should you want some control on the final results’ length, consider a body groomer where the different lengths of combs can be attached.

Price

As is the case when buying anything, the price varies significantly in any given category of products.  We analyzed 67 electric shavers made by Braun, Philips Norelco, Remington, Wahl, BaByliss Pro, and Panasonic.  We found that the average price for a rotary shaver is $74 and a foil shaver is $104:

Average Price of an Electric Shaver by Type

Here’s the source of our data:

ProductBrandPriceType
Series 9 9390ccBraun$310Foil
Series 9 9385ccBraun$310Foil
Series 9 9370ccBraun$300Foil
Series 9 9330sBraun$235Foil
Philips Norelco Shaver 9300Philips Norelco$220Rotary
Series 7 7085ccBraun$170Foil
Philips Norelco Shaver 7000Philips Norelco$170Rotary
Series 7 7075ccBraun$160Foil
Series 7 7071ccBraun$150Foil
Series 7 7027csBraun$150Foil
Panasonic Arc 5Panasonic$150Foil
Heritage Series Foil ShaverRemington$150Foil
Series 6 6090ccBraun$140Foil
Series 7 7020sBraun$130Foil
Series 6 6075ccBraun$130Foil
Philips Norelco Shaver 7500Philips Norelco$130Rotary
Series 6 6072ccBraun$120Foil
Panasonic Arc 4Panasonic$120Foil
Maximum Comfort HyperFlex Advanced Rotary ShaverRemington$120Rotary
SmartEdge Advanced Foil ShaverRemington$120Foil
FOILFX02BaBylissPRO$120Foil
Series 6 6020sBraun$100Foil
Series 3 ProSkin 3070ccBraun$100Foil
Series 3 ProSkin 3050ccBraun$100Foil
Hyperflex Verso 5 Attachments ShaverRemington$100Rotary
Series 5 5050csBraun$90Foil
R5200 Series Rotary ShaverRemington$90Rotary
Smart ShaveWahl$90Foil
Vintage Dual Close-ShaverRemington$80Foil
Speed ShaveWahl$80Foil
Series 5 5020sBraun$75Foil
Series 5 5018sBraun$70Foil
Panasonic Arc 3Panasonic$70Foil
R6 WETech Power Series Rotary ShaverRemington$70Rotary
F5 Comfort Series Foil Shaver with Charging StandRemington$70Foil
Ultra-Close & Smooth Foil ShaverRemington$70Foil
R6 REMINGTON R6000 Series Rotary ShaverRemington$70Rotary
Series 3 ProSkin 3040sBraun$60Foil
R5000 Series Rotary ShaverRemington$60Rotary
F5 Comfort Series Foil ShaverRemington$60Foil
R5000 Series Rotary ShaverRemington$60Rotary
Flex ShaveWahl$60Foil
LifeProof ShaverWahl$60Foil
Philips Norelco Shaver 3500Philips Norelco$60Rotary
WETech 100% Waterproof Cordless Foil ShaverRemington$55Foil
Virtually Indestructible Rotary Shaver 5100Remington$55Rotary
FOILFX01BaBylissPRO$55Foil
Virtually Indestructible Foil Shaver 5100Remington$53Foil
Series 3 ProSkin 3000sBraun$50Foil
R4000 Series Rotary ShaverRemington$50Rotary
F4 Comfort Series Foil ShaverRemington$50Foil
R4000 Series Rotary ShaverRemington$50Rotary
Clean & Close ShaverWahl$50Foil
Philips Norelco Shaver 2500Philips Norelco$50Rotary
Series 3 310sBraun$40Foil
Series 3 300sBraun$40Foil
R3000 Series Rotary ShaverRemington$40Rotary
F3 Comfort Series Foil ShaverRemington$40Foil
R3000 Series Rotary ShaverRemington$40Rotary
Groomsman Smooth & EasyWahl$40Foil
Philips Norelco Shaver 2300Philips Norelco$40Rotary
UltraStyle Rechargeable Foil ShaverRemington$35Foil
UltraStyle Rechargeable Rotary ShaverRemington$35Rotary
Smooth & Close Foil Shaver 3000Remington$35Foil
R2 Rotary ShaverRemington$30Rotary
F2 Foil ShaverRemington$30Foil
R50 Series Rotary ShaverRemington$23Rotary

While the difference in averages between both types of electric shavers is significant, as you can see in the table above, many brands offer a rotary and foil shaver at prices accessible to all.

Just for fun, here are the three most expensive and inexpensive electric shavers:

Expensive:

  • Braun Series 9 9390cc ($310)
  • Braun Series 9 9385cc ($310)
  • Braun Series 9 9370cc ($300)

Inexpensive:

  • Remington R2 Rotary Shaver ($30)
  • Remington F2 Foil Shaver ($30)
  • Remington R50 Series Rotary Shaver ($23)

Notably absent in our analysis were off-brands.  There may be further savings here if you are looking to keep your expenses low.*

*I would strongly caution against this as they are often poorly made and will need to be replaced more frequently.  

Brands

The most trusted brands for foil and rotary shavers include the following:

  • Braun (Foil)
  • Philips Norelco (Rotary)
  • Remington (Foil & Rotary)
  • Panasonic (Foil)
  • Wahl (Foil)
  • BaBylissPRO (Foil)

Other Considerations

Below is a list of some of the features shared by both foil and rotary shavers:

  • Battery: If possible, go with a Li-Ion battery.  It charges quickly and has a long run time.  Ni-MH is found in cheap models and requires several hours to charge. It also has a significantly shorter run time.
  • Travel-Lock: Often found on premium models only.  Consider only for frequent gym or travel use.
  • Wet & Dry Shaving: Electric shavers are designed for dry use.  However, you can use them with a shaving cream (wet shaving) for comfortable and close results.  
  • Cleaning System: Premium foil and rotary shavers may have a cleaning system, whether sold separately or included with the device.  A cleaning system relies on an alcohol-based solution.
  • Waterproof: Consider this if you prefer to shave in the shower or like to wash the device regularly.

We hope that this guide helped in your research in understanding the key differences between a foil and rotary electric shaver.