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Rotary vs Foil Shaver: Which Should You Use?

Why not make your next shave electric? In the world of electric shavers, you have two major options: rotary vs foil shaver. Both can give a great shave, but this analysis will help you figure out which will work best for you. 

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What Is A Rotary Shaver?

A rotary shaver is an electric shaver with three round blades mounted on a flexible head, with circular guards protecting the blades. The flexibility allows the head of a rotary razor to adjust its angle based on the surface it’s shaving. This, combined with the spinning blades, makes for a tool that can move in any direction and shave hair no matter which way it grows. 

Who Is Rotary Shaver For?

Rotary shavers are for men who want their grooming routine to be as convenient as possible, without taking too long or needing much preparation. Maybe you’re still half-asleep when you shave in the morning or maybe you’re just a busy dude… 

Either way, rotary shavers are brilliantly engineered to take a lot of thinking out of the shaving process. They practically guide themselves over your skin and cut in every direction. This does mean they’re often a little more expensive than other kinds of shavers. 

As for cutting power, rotary shavers are quite forgiving of 2-3 days’ growth, so they’re also a nice option if you don’t like to shave every day. They give a semi-close shave, so they’re ideal for anyone who likes a clean but shadowed shave more than a bare baby-faced shave. 

This also makes them a great choice for men with somewhat sensitive skin, although if your skin is severly sensitive you might be better off shaving with a beard trimmer, instead. 

If that sounds like you, check out my list of the best rotary shavers

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Rotary Shavers?


  • They can shave effectively in every direction, which is great for quick, mindless shaving or for dealing with hair that grows in different directions. 
  • Flexible heads adhere to the contours of the face, making it easier to shave the hollows of the cheeks or jawline. 
  • Shave effectively even when they’re only used a few times a week. 
  • They’re usually gentle enough for those with sensitive skin. 


  • Tend to be a little pricey. 
  • They don’t usually provide a very close shave. 

How Do You Use Rotary Shavers?

Using a rotary shaver is as simple as it gets, but here’s how to use it for best results.  

  • Double-check that your rotary shaver is charged and ready for action. 
  • Make sure that your skin is very clean. If your rotary shaver is designed for wet shaving, you can apply shaving cream if you want. 
  • Turn on your rotary shaver, and bring the head against your face. 
  • Now’s the beautiful part – shaving! While I recommend using light circular motions to make sure you don’t miss any spots, the reality is that it’s hard to go wrong with a rotary shaver. No matter what direction you move it in, it’ll still work. 
  • Once you finish shaving, splash your face with a bit of water to get rid of any stubble remnants, and then apply your usual post-shave care products. 
  • Finally, open the head of your shaver to dump out any stubble trapped below the blades. If your shaver is rinseable then place the open head under the tap to clean it out more thoroughly. 

What Is A Foil Shaver?

Foil shavers are electric shavers with two rows of bow-like blades that move from side to side. The blades are covered with thin metal guards that curve over them, called “foils”. The foils have small, round holes designed to capture the hair without catching on the skin. 

As you run the foil shaver over your hair growth, the hair that gets caught within the holes gets cut by the fast-moving blades. Because the blades move sideways, it’s important to move the shave up and down, otherwise, the blades could accidentally tug or pull on the hair. 

Who Are Foil Shavers For?

If you’re a little more type A, you will prefer a foil shaver. 

Within the world of electric shavers, foil shavers provide the closest, smoothest shave. This makes them great for men who like a pristine, close shave, and don’t mind taking a little more time to achieve it. 

Because foil shaver blades are arranged in rows, they’re also fantastic for men who shave more methodically and who like clean lines. For example, you can use a foil shaver to straighten out your sideburns or to clean up your neck and cheeks while still rocking a bit of a beard (although a detail trimmer would be better for the job).

With the exception of some special designs, most foil shavers struggle to cut down long hair. If you have a very consistent shaving routine, that won’t be an issue, but if you get lazy sometimes, you’ll be better off with a more forgiving rotary shaver. 

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Foil Shavers?


  • Closest shave you can get with an electric shaver
  • Blades arranged in straight rows make it possible to shave in clean lines. 
  • They’re still easier to use than a manual razor. 


  • Because they provide a closer shave, there’s a slightly greater risk of irritating the skin. 
  • Most foil shavers will only work effectively over stubble. 

How Do You Use Foil Shavers?

Using a foil shaver is a little more involved, but it’s still easy. 

  • Start off by unplugging your foil shaver, since I know you’re a responsible guy who remembers to charge his equipment. 
  • Clean and dry your face, or apply your favorite shaving cream if your foil shaver is suitable for wet shaving. 
  • Start shaving by bringing the foils against your skin. Move the blades upwards in short strokes, to shave against the direction of hair growth. 
  • Be careful not to exert too much pressure, to avoid irritating your skin. 
  • When you need to move to a new section of your face, lift the razor off your skin and then put it back down – don’t drag it sideways over your skin. 
  • Once you’re done shaving, (if safe) you can rinse the head of your shaver to get rid of any stubble that got trapped in the foils. 

Rotary Shaver vs Foil Shaver: Which Should You Use?

Within the world of shaving, I think the difference between a rotary vs foil shaver is more similar than they are different. Both are electric shavers that are ideal for daily or near-daily dry shaving, although you can find models from both categories that can be used for wet shaving

That said, rotary shavers are clearly best for those who prioritize convenience and ease of use over getting a very close shave. Rotary shavers are much more forgiving of things like long hair or a lackadaisical shaving method. 

On the other hand, foil shavers are ideal for guys who take their facial grooming a little more seriously. Since you use them against the direction of hair growth, they give a very close shave (comparable to the shave you’d get with a mild safety razor). If you work in a setting where people are paying attention to the cleanliness of your shave, it might be a better choice.  

You may also want to consider your hair and skin type when deciding on a rotary vs foil shaver, although I don’t think it’s anywhere near as relevant as your shaving habits. Conventional wisdom says that rotary shavers are better for sensitive skin and coarse hair while foil shavers are better for hearty skin and medium or fine hair

In practice, modern electric shavers are usually designed to suit all skin and hair types. You’ll be able to find an appropriate shaver for your skin and facial hair no matter which type of shaver you choose.

Miles is a professional men's grooming analyst who believes that to look good a man just needs to take good care of himself. He’s all about wet shaving, sustainability, and evidence-based grooming - an obsession he’s ready to share. Miles is known for his in-depth analysis of men's grooming products, brands, and best practices you can't find anywhere else.