Foil vs. Rotary Shaver: What’s the Difference?

This article contains everything you need to know about foil and rotary shavers, including how they work and their main differences.
Bella is a skilled copywriter who holds a degree in English studies. Her lifelong passion for decor and interior design is evident in her work, which is inspired by the beau read more
Reviewed By
Expert Consultant
Tommy is an expert consultant at HouseAndBeyond, with extensive experience in home improvement. A master of all trades, he offers invaluable expertise in areas such as carpe read more
Last updated: August 15, 2023
HouseAndBeyond is reader-supported. We may earn a commission through products purchased using links on this page. Learn more about our process here

Shaving technology has come a long way since the early days, and electric shavers have proven more convenient and time-saving. Sometimes a quick shave comes in handy whether you’re just trying to fade your neckline, shave in the shower, or get rid of excess body hair. With an electric shaver, you can expect efficiency, convenience, and highly pleasing results.

If you’ve already made the decision to upgrade from a cartridge razor to an electric shaver, the sheer range of options available to you can be overwhelming. How do you choose the right shaver for your needs? What factors should you consider? The good news is that most of the time, it all boils down to 2 options: foil vs. rotary shaver. Here’s everything you need to know about them, including their main differences and similarities.

Foil shaver

Foil vs. Rotary Shaver: What's the Difference?Foil shavers are so named due to the thin sheets of metals with little holes (foils) that cover the blade. These shavers have oscillating blades behind the foil, which are also known as cutters.

According to expert recommendations, the Panasonic Arc5 Electric Razor is one of the best foil shavers in the market. It comes with 5 ultra-sharp blades that are precise and have a very thin arched foil that contours to the shape of your face. This model also has a 2 in 1 wet/ dry electric trimmer and shaver that you can use to detail your beards, mustache & sideburns. The waterproof shaver, in particular, makes it very easy to shave in or out of the shower.

The Panasonic Arc5 Electric Razor is equipped with high-performance motors that can make up to 14,000 cuts per minute without losing its peak power irrespective of the battery charge. It also comes with built-in sensors that can detect any beard density differences and adjust the cutting power automatically. This model has an LCD battery indicator that shows the battery status. It’s also portable and rechargeable, making it the perfect travel companion.

How does it work?

This shaver has holes in the foil that allow your hair to penetrate the machine. The cutters located behind the foil then start moving in an oscillating motion, cutting the hair as it gets into the shaver. The best way to define the cutting motion of a foil shaver is by referencing it to that of a lawnmower or fan blade.


Foil vs. Rotary Shaver: What's the Difference?Here are the main advantages of using a foil shaver:

  • Gentle on the skin: since the foil has multiple holes making some sort of mesh appearance, your hair gets into them without being pulled. This allows for a more delicate experience.
  • Smooth shave: most foil shavers come with multiple oscillating blades that cut in a straight line allowing for an overall clean cut.
  • Shut shave: foil shavers are known for their close shaves, mostly due to the foils. They allow hair of all lengths to penetrate the machine, making it easy for them to cut fine hairs which are ordinarily difficult to shave.
  • Versatility: these types of shavers can accommodate all hair types, including coarse ones with one pass. The guiding holes in the foil often have a hexagonal or wavy pattern that allows different lengths and textures of hairs to get through. This ensures that even hair that is very close to the skin gets raised even when it’s wavy or laying flat.
  • Quick shave: the blades in foil shavers oscillate at a very high speed and can even achieve 14000 cycles per minute. This especially comes in handy when you need to groom yourself and are in a hurry.
  • Easy to maintain: the cleaning process is fairly straightforward, and all you have to do is run it under flowing water to get rid of the shaving cream and caught hair. You can then dry the shaver and lubricate the foil head to enhance durability.


Disadvantages of using a foil shaver:

  • Shaves in straight lines: if you enjoy shaving your hair in circular motions, then you’ll have a hard time adjusting to the foil shaver. This is a significant disadvantage because the horizontal or vertical motions don’t match the curved contours of the face.
  • Very noisy: the cutters and interior motors of the cutters are noisier compared to other types of shavers. This is especially annoying if someone else is conducting the shave and you’re attempting to rest.

Rotary shaver

Foil vs. Rotary Shaver: What's the Difference?Rotary shavers often consist of 3 heads, each of which has a spinning blade that cuts the hair. They also come with a metal shield with a series of holes that trap your hair when it enters the shavers and meets the blades.

According to most reviews, the Philips Norelco S9721/89 Shaver 9700 is one of the best rotary shaver models. It has been engineered to deliver close shaves even on beards that are only 3 days long. This shaver has 3 rotary heads that move in 8 different directions independently, allowing it to accommodate your body curves and contours. The shaving system delivers a 30% more close shave while the contouring gets up to 20% more hair.

This shaver allows you to choose the speed setting that you’re most comfortable with, depending on your hair and skin type. For instance, if you’re looking for a high-powered shave, you could go for a fast speed; medium speed works well on a thorough shave, while a skin-friendly shave can be achieved with a slow speed setting. The Philips Norelco S9721/89 Shaver 9700 is also rechargeable, cordless, and features a digital interface that allows you to keep track of the battery charge.

How does it work?

Rotary shavers give the blades a higher level of motion, and in some cases, manufacturers engineer the razors to spin in different directions to ensure high coverage. These shavers cut your hair in a circular motion and are able to accommodate the contours and curves of the shaving area. This makes it easy for you to reach areas that are otherwise difficult to shave, such as the neck.

ProsFoil vs. Rotary Shaver: What's the Difference?

  • Great for thick and fast-growing hair: rotary shavers have an effective way of dealing with extended hair. They make an excellent option if your hair grows back quickly and you don’t prefer shaving daily. They are also great for people with difficult skin due to years of shaving.
  • Works well on contours: since the heads on these shavers rotate in different directions, they allow for a 360-degree shave. They are able to bend to the contours of your skin and can get in hard-to-reach places such as behind the ears and beneath the nose. Rotary shavers also come in handy if you have a sharp jawline, larger cheekbones, or a prominent Adam’s apple. The slow circular motions make this shaver great for shaving sensitive ras uh a the underarms and neck.
  • Effective cut wild hair: don’t you just hate it when you have wildly grown stubble? With a rotary shaver, you can easily cut this hair even when it’s grown in various directions.
  • Quiet shave: rotary shavers are relatively quiet and allow you to enjoy a smooth shave without irritating your eardrums.
  • Is effective on extended hair: if you enjoy going through your weekend without a shave, you’ll appreciate the effectiveness of rotary shavers on extended hair. You should, however, limit the hair growth to a maximum of 3 days.


  • Significantly difficult to clean: To clean your rotary shaver, you have to disassemble it into individual parts. Any deviation from the manufacturer’s instructions could reduce its durability. This is highly inconvenient, especially when you have to leave the house in a hurry.
  • Doesn’t provide a close shave: rotary razors often leave some stubble behind and don’t leave you with a close shave compared to other types of razors.
  • Less precision: since rotary shavers move in a circular motion, it’s significantly difficult to attain the precision required for areas such as the edges of your beards and the sideburns.

Foil shaver vs. rotary shaver: differences

According to CNN Trusted Source Best electric shaver: This smart electric shaver adapts to your beard for a close, comfortable shave | CNN Underscored Hunting down the best electric shaver can be tricky. Luckily, this smart electric shaver is the option that tops our list. In fact, it can actually adapt to your beard for a close, comfortable shave every time. , electric shavers are more efficient compared to other types of razors and adapt to your beard for a closer shave. If you’ve boiled down your options to foil and rotary shavers, here’s an overview of their main differences.

How they are used

Foil shavers are a great option when it comes to precision shaving or areas that require specific lines, such as sideburns. They also work perfectly for small areas. Rotary shavers, on the other hand, are an excellent option for shaving large areas such as the legs, scalp, and face as they can cover a wide surface area within a short time. They are also used on sensitive areas such as underarms.

Cutting motion

Foil vs. Rotary Shaver: What's the Difference?The working mechanisms of a foil shaver and a rotary shaver vary significantly. Foil shavers cut in straight motions or vertical and horizontal lines. The foil has multiple holes that give it a mesh appearance and function by pulling the hair into the oscillating blades.  Rotary shavers, on the other hand, feature 3 rotating heads that move in multiple directions and cut your hair in a circular motion.

System’s mobility

Most users think that rotary shavers have more speed because they have 3 heads that move at once. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Foil shavers, in fact, offer more speed as they have a bigger charge. This then causes more vibrations and velocity in the cutters and can reach charges of upto 14,000 cycles per minute.

The system mobility of a foil shaver is the main reason why you don’t have to go over the same spot twice compared to rotary shavers.

Skin compatibility and hair density

The sensitivity of your skin is highly dependent on how long you’ve been shaving, and it highly impacts your shaving experience. Typically, sensitive skin requires a gentle shaving experience to prevent cuts, and foil shavers are a bit easy. You can easily set the machine to low speed. Rotary shavers, on the other hand, allow for more hair types, including wavy and thick hair.


Rotary shavers are generally more versatile compared to foil shavers. They work well on your body contours allowing for a more even shave even when you have long hair. They can also be used on flat surfaces, including the cheeks.

Foil shavers are highly effective on flat surfaces or areas that need to be shaved in straight lines. If you, however, go for a big-finish shaver, you can achieve exact cutting.


Electric shavers are like an investment which is why the price is a critical factor when you’re making a purchasing decision. Generally, the price of the machine varies based on the brand and your preferred model. However, based on the examples we highlighted above, the foil shaver is more expensive.

Other differences include:

  • Noise: foil shavers are noisy due to the vibrations of the blades and the motion of the cutters. If you enjoy a quiet shave, you should go for a rotary shaver.
  • Style and design: both shavers achieve distinct designs; for instance, the foil shaver has around 3 -4 foils that have curtains behind them. Rotary shavers, on the other hand, have 3 circular heads that move in upto 10 different directions.


Which shaver works best for everyday use?

If you prefer shaving daily, then you should go for a foil shaver. Rotary shavers are more suited towards people that skip a couple of days before their next shave and can cut hair growth of upto 3 days without yanking on it.

Can I use electric shavers on my pubic hair?


Most men are often curious about the scope of use when it comes to electric razors, especially on pubic hair. We, however, recommend against this because both foil and rotary shavers have rapidly moving blades that could prove risky for you. This is especially true because pubic hair grows in different directions, and foil shavers may not get the job done. Moving a rotary shaver in circular motions, on the other hand, is very dangerous. We advise that you just buy a hair trimmer for your pubic hair.

Do electric shavers trigger ingrown hair?

If you’re susceptible to ingrown hairs or razor bumps, you should go for a foil razor. The circular motions of the rotary razor can cause your hair to curl inwards slightly as you shave.

Are there any similarities between the foil and rotary shaver?

Both shavers have varying cutting methods, skin compatibility, versatility, and system mobility. The only similarity that they share is that they are both powered using electric currents.

Final Thoughts

According to BBC Trusted Source Are beards good for your health? If you were in search of a new, disease-fighting antibiotic, where might you start? In a swamp? A remote island? Well, how about combing beards? Michael Mosley investigates. , even though beards often look great on men, they are a hub for bacterial growth, especially when neglected. There’s no set rule as to how often you should trim your beard, but experts recommend that you trim them at least once a week. If you’ve settled on electric shavers, there’s a high chance that you’ve rolled your options down to foil vs. rotary shavers. While both types are highly effective, they have different shaving technologies. For instance, foil shavers cut your hair in a straight line while rotary shavers do so in a circular motion. When making a decision, you should base it on your skin sensitivity, hair thickness, and preferences.


Best electric shaver: This smart electric shaver adapts to your beard for a close, comfortable shave | CNN Underscored
Hunting down the best electric shaver can be tricky. Luckily, this smart electric shaver is the option that tops our list. In fact, it can actually adapt to your beard for a close, comfortable shave every time.
Are beards good for your health?
If you were in search of a new, disease-fighting antibiotic, where might you start? In a swamp? A remote island? Well, how about combing beards? Michael Mosley investigates.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *