The Great Debate Finally Answered: Foil Versus Rotary Shavers

By Charlie Harper | Guides

Apr 23

You stopped shaving for No Shave November, but now you’re months down the line, and people mistake you for one of Mumford and Sons (and not in a positive way).

Maybe you need a close shave every day, but that snooze button is sabotaging you.

It could be the rusty, dull disposable razor you scrape across your face every morning (and you wonder why you constantly battle razor burn.)

No doubt, you need a proper shaver but don’t buy the first thing you see. Electric shavers come in two basic types, rotary and foil. Which one you choose will depend a lot on what you need from a shaver and what you expect when you’re done. All men should know the difference.

We want to clear up some common questions you might have about each type of shaver and give you a better understanding of what shaver might be the right choice for you.

Get your man card back with this guide to foil versus rotary shavers. Let’s get you sorted.

Foil Shavers

electric foil shaverThe design of foil trimmers features a strip of steel over two blades. The dual blades move in a back and forth motion against each other, much like scissors, underneath the steel.

The steel is there for two reasons. First, it comes between your skin and the blades, preventing irritation and injury. If you’ve ever been nicked by a pair of clippers that weren’t adequately guarded, you’ll understand the foil’s design.

Second, the foil acts as a trap, directing hair into the path of the blades for a closer shave. You can get a precise shave with foil if you understand their limitations.

How Do I Shave with a Foil Shaver?

Before you do anything, be sure to trim any excessively long hair. If you notice one rogue hair that’s escaped the shaver for a while, don’t expect the shaver to handle it. Clip it yourself.

You have to respect the shape of the head. It’s a rectangular strip with very little pivot, so you aren’t going to move in a circle. If your foil shaver is wet/dry compatible, you can apply shave oil or cream before you start. Pull the skin taught and begin with an up and down motion over an area of hair. Repeat over the same area using a left to right motion.

Don’t move too quickly or the hair won’t catch in the foil strip. Moving too slowly increases the chances of irritation. Find a good middle ground based on the sensitivity of your skin.

Resist the urge to press the shaver too hard against the skin. Though it might feel like this gives you a better shave, it’s hard on the shaving mechanism. Use a moderate amount of pressure and trust that the blades will do their job.

Also, don’t tap the shaver to clean it. These shavers are meant to withstand some moderate impact, but continually knocking the hair out of the shaver during a session only weakens the device over time.

What are the Benefits of Foil Shavers?

Foil shavers are much gentler on the skin than rotary shavers. You can get a very close, precise shave without tearing hair from the follicle or having too much contact with the skin.

It’s good for a shave in two directions. It’s also better for men with sensitive skin or those who have more delicate facial hair.

If you can’t grow a full beard, a foil shaver allows you to trim your hair quickly every morning, so you never go out of the house with the bare patches on your face that are apparent to the world.

If you keep a particular style in your facial hair, a foil shaver will help you maintain those razor edges you need for your style to look best. You can get right up to the edge of a sideburn or goatee without risking the overall shape.

What are the Downsides?

They shave like a push mower. If you’ve ever tried to get around a tight corner with a push mower, you know that it goes in straight lines.

Foil shavers are the same way. Their rectangular heads won’t contour to your face because they can’t pivot well. You have to shave in two directions: up and down or side to side.

They’re harder to get under your nose and around your jaw. If your hair is unusually thick and heads down into your neck or high up on your cheekbones, you might run into some issues with a foil shaver.

If you have a very angular face, a foil shaver is more likely to nick you or to leave hair in place. You don’t want to invest in a foil shaver and then have to keep a disposable razor around to handle those wild hairs along your chin.

Rotary Shavers

foil shaverRotary shavers have a circular head that guards rotating blades. The blades move similarly to grass cutter. Most have triple heads, but some have more for a closer shave.

They have a mechanism similar to foil shavers that traps and guides hair to the direction of the blades. The outer ring behaves a lot like the strip of steel on a foil shaver.

Rotary shavers pivot to match the contours of your face. Each rotating circle moves independently so that when you cover your jaw or a cheekbone, they conform better.

How do I Shave with a Rotary Shaver?

Rotary shavers move best with a circular motion. Begin with pre-trimming any excessively long hair. Wash your face to soften up the hair.

Pull your skin taut and gently place the shaver against your skin. Begin by moving the shaver at a moderate speed in small circular motions across the face until the hair is completely trimmed.

Again, resist the urge to press the blades against the skin too hard. It might seem like you’ll get a closer shave, but you interfere with the shaving mechanism and reduce the life of your device over time.

Don’t hit the shaver to remove hair as you go. Gentle tapping can help loosen trapped hair, but too much impact also wears the shaver down over time.

What are the Benefits of a Rotary Shaver?

Rotary shavers are suitable for thick or coarse hair that tends to grow in different directions. The ability to move the shaver in tiny circles helps capture the hair whatever direction it happens to be growing.

If you don’t have sensitive skin, a rotary blade lets you get a good shave without having to pick it up every single day. No electric shaver is going to handle full beards, but you don’t have to be as religious about shaving with rotary blades.

Rotary shavers are best for larger areas that don’t need precise edges. Also, if you aren’t interested in shaving every day, a rotary shaver gets the job done a little better.

Rotary shavers also tend to be more durable machines. Something about their construction gives them a better handle on impact and everyday wear and tear. That said, investing in a quality device regardless of the style goes a long way for durability.

What are the Downsides?

If you keep a goatee or sideburns, a rotary shaver will be a lesson in futility. A rotary shaver just isn’t going to give you that razor edge. Trying to maintain a perfect edge for sideburns or attempting to get close to your goatee is going to end in tragedy.

It’s also more likely to irritate if you have sensitive skin. The circular motions of the rotary shaver cause sensitive skin to become inflamed over time, especially if you have a naturally heavy hand.

If you have fine hair or aren’t able to grow a full beard, a rotary shaver might be overkill. Since you don’t have to contend with hair up in your nose and unruly neckbeards, a foil shaver is faster and closer.

Foil Versus Rotary

Both types of shavers will depend a lot on how well you maintain both the device and your facial hair.

No electric shaver is going to handle hair that’s gotten way out of hand. If you’ve gone a few weeks (or months) without shaving, you’re going to need a full set of clippers to take off most of the length before you can even think about getting out your shaver.

Maintaining both shavers also determines how well it shaves. For both, you need to brush the hair out of the blades after every shave so that it doesn’t get gummed up during the next session.

Periodically, you’ll need to disassemble the shaver according to the manufacturer’s directions to completely clean it. Please train yourself to tap gently to remove hair as you shave if you shave dry. We’ll repeat it, gently. Over-enthusiastic tapping will damage your device.

A Note About Sensitive Skin

Both types of shavers have models with wet/dry shaving options. If you have particularly sensitive skin, even the foil shaver could irritate. You need to look for a model that allows you to shave wet so that you can add shaving cream or oil to ease the strain on your skin.

It also takes a few weeks for your skin to fully adjust to any change in shaver whether you’re switching from disposable cartridges or not. Give it plenty of time before you decide if you like the new shave. Many manufacturers have a money-back guarantee that will give you plenty of time to try out your new device without worrying you’ll hate it.

All that said,

You’re Probably a Foil Man if:

  • you’re a younger man and less familiar with electric shavers. Foil shavers follow standard razors in shaving patterns.
  • you have sensitive skin. The foil shaver gives you a close shave with way less pressure than a rotary (most of the time).
  • you keep elaborate facial hair. Don’t get a rotary shaver near that goatee, please. You’ll ruin it.
  • you shave every day. You’re religious about shaving. You say things like “I don’t feel ready for the day until my face is baby smooth.” (side note: quit saying that).
  • your hair is fine and grows mainly in the same direction.
  • you can’t stand a five o’clock shadow. It gets way closer of a shave.

You’re Probably a Rotary Man if:

  • you have facial hair like a pirate: coarse and refuses to follow any rules.
  • you don’t shave every day. That snooze button gets you almost every time.
  • you have a very angular face. Must be hard being a male model, just saying.
  • you don’t keep any unique facial hair styles. It all comes off and you don’t care about what your edges look like because there are none.
  • you’re hard on your shavers and need a heftier tool.
  • you regularly cut longer hairs and don’t mind a bit of stubble at the end of the day.

The Takeaway

Foil versus rotary shavers and which is better is a bit of a tricky question. The answer depends a lot on what you’re asking of your shaver and under what conditions you shave. Consider the entire picture before deciding on one or the other. If you have coarse hair and choose a rotary shaver because of that, you’re going to be very disappointed when you accidentally shave off your carefully crafted sideburns.

Some men even have both types of shavers for the best of both worlds. We come down on the side of investing in a quality tool and getting rid of those silly disposable razors getting your sink all rusty and disgusting.

Get your man card back. Let go of that embarrassing disposable razor and invest in a proper shaver.

What’s your must-have for an electric shaver? Do you follow military precision shaving rules, or do you play fast and loose with shaving? Let us know in the comments below.

Also read: What is the Difference between a Rotary Electric Shaver and a Straight Foil Electric Razor?

About the Author

Leave a Comment:

Leave a Comment: