Rotary blade or foil shaver?

If you look at electric shavers, you will basically find two types. The rotary blade technology, used by Philips and some of Remington’s models, and the foil technology used mainly by Braun and Panasonic. Both types do the same job – but in very different ways. I will help you  find out what is best for you!

The Rotary Blades

The rotary blades used by companies such as Philips/Norelco and Remington (Photo by Philips)

However, first let me explain the differences between the two.

The rotary blade shavers have a series of circular cutters attached. Typically, three rotating blades placed in a triangular pattern.

To get the best shave, you will have to move the shaver across your face in slow, rotating movements – almost as if you were applying a nice skin tonic.

The foil shavers

Braun has chosen a different approach to electric shaving. Their shavers consist of a series of knives hidden under a rectangular metallic foil, designed to raise the hairs and guide them close to the vibrating knives. Long and straight movement of the shaver is the key to success here.

Which to choose?

So which one should you buy? For me, the answer has been quite clear.

I need both! For the last seven years, I have used a combination of the two types.

Honestly, I must have a strange face. For my face and cheeks, the rotary blades really do a great job. However, on my chin and neck, where the skin is slightly looser, the foil shaver is so much better for me.

If I use my Philips shaver for the entire shave, I will have to spend much more time shaving my chin – and I will eventually end up with irritated skin. Using my Braun foil shaver for the whole shave will result in a beautiful chin, but will leave the cheeks less soft compared to the Philips shaver.

Not for everyone?

The foil blade shavers, like the ones from Braun and Remington, tend to be better on looser skin (Photo by Braun)

Compared with the shave you get from a traditional razor, the electric shavers win by far when it comes to convenience and time. It is so much easier just to pick up the electric shaver and get the work done, instead of preparing the razor, foam and water and slowly work your way across your face and chin.

Nevertheless, the dry shaving methods used by most electric shavers may cause some irritation to your skin. If your shaver allows you to shave on a wet face, you could apply loads of warm water or a good pre-electric shaving oil just before shaving.

If your shaver cannot cope with the wet face, you could try to put a warm, damp towel on your face for a few minutes and then dry your face afterwards. This will warm your whiskers a bit, and probably lessen the skin irritation.

You should expect the skin irritation to be worst in the first few weeks of using the shaver. This is true if you have never used an electric shaver before – OR if you are trying to switch between a rotary blade and a foil blade shaver (or the other way around).

Money back guarantee

In Denmark, where I live, both Braun and Philips offer a 30 or 60 day money-back guarantee. You can buy the shaver and use it for some weeks before deciding if it’s the right one for you. This is fantastic, as it will allow you to try out the different methods before deciding which shaver to use for the years to come.

Many of the electric shavers you can buy on Amazon come with a full 60-day money-back-guarantee. This applies to many Philips Norelco, Braun and Panasonic shavers.

I am very interested to know about your personal experiences. If you use an electric shaver, please comment below and let me know how you decided on your current model.

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    • kaied
    • June 25, 2010

    Great subject,
    I do use foil shaver from Braun and it’s fantastic, i tried the Philips with rotary blades and i feel it’s scratch my skin, one of my friends has the same experience, 4 years ago i used Gillette foam and blades but it’s messy to carry when you travel, even in home much easier to use the electric shavers.
    But when i started use the electric shaver i had skin irritation for 0ne week then it’s back to normal, may it’s not the same with everyone.
    But i do like electric foil shavers, simple, fast, and safer.


    1. I have used all 3 types of shavers, the regular manual razor, the foil shave electric, and the rotary electric. Its ben my experience that the manual works best. As far as electic is concerned, there are a few discrepencies 2 consider between the foil and rotary shave system. The Rotary tripleheader seems 2 work best with shaving longer hairs, like if its ben a while since u last shaved then a foil shaver does, but the foil shaver seems 2 do a better job of shaving closer 4 the day 2 day shave. It seems men who use electric shavers are loyal 2 either 1 of these systems or the other.

    • Eric S
    • September 15, 2010

    As someone with a beard I find a rotary shaver to be problematic. It is easier to shave along the edge of my beard without out altering it with a foil shaver. The slots in the sides of the rotary shaver has a tendency to catch and clip hairs at the edge of my beard, gradually eroding it and affecting the shape.

    1. That is so to true Eric! The Rotary blades are really bad when it comes to precision work. The foil blade shavers are a bit more precise.

      1. I have found that sometimes electric shavers can be difficult 2 use if u have facial hair, they dont do a great job getting around the goatee or beard. Especially if u have, a beard or goatee. The mustache not so much a prob 2 get around, the goatee or beard, however, sometimes tough with electric, im thinking due 2 the bulky size of the shaver. I have found that long facial hair, such as beards and goatees, when hairs r clipped with an electric shaver, it can be painful. U have 2 remember, if its called a “razor” its meant 2 shave stubble, not 2 trim long hair. Otherwise it wood be called a trimmer

      2. Rotary shavers r very bulky, cover alot of area, this is the 1 thing that makes them convenient when ur in a hurry, but they r a “razor” not a “trimmer” and so they dont do well with long hair.

          • Rod B
          • January 19, 2013

          My Remington F4 (F4790) Foil shaver has a built-in trimmer, I love it.

    • Shuttle
    • July 3, 2011


    I’ve just purchased and used a foil based Panasonic Shaver, and found it does not cut hairs. As much as my Phillip’s rotary one which does cut hairs on my face and chin. On the whole I recommend and use a Phillips triple head rotary shaver as it cuts good. I have been using shavers since I started shaving aged 18.

    Thank you.

    1. Often times it can depend on your face. Ive known people who swear by either the foil shavers, or the rotary shavers. I have found generally that the rotary shavers r more useful cuz u mite be able 2 get away with not shaving 3-4 days, if u dont have 2 heavy of a beard, where as daily shaving is almost required with a foil shaver

    • Samuel lloyd s.
    • July 27, 2011

    I have been using the philips rotary shavers for a long time now and must say they are just amazing -having both used the rq1150 and rq1280 model-. Optic wise they are sleek and appealing and getting the job done i must say they are more than just great. @shaving detective and @eric my shaver also came with a trimmer, which i use for shaping the side burns so precision aint a problem 😉

    1. Its actually amazing how advanced they have ben making these things.

    • mica
    • October 8, 2011

    I have tried both kinds(rotary and foil)but the bumps are always there especially under the chin. Then tried some after shave lotion without success, what sould i do?

    1. I always used a pre-shave, its called Williams Lectric Shave. U use it almost the same way u wood use shaving cream if u were going 2 use a manual razor, although its liquid. U want 2 let it dry maybe 10-15 seconds prior 2 shaving tho. I dont know if it will eleviate the bumps as much as it will give u a closer shave with an electric. It probably will, because it stands up the whiskers, so that the razzor does not hav 2 work as hard 2 get a close shave. Often the more work the razor has 2 do 2 shave, the less comfortable shave. Try that Mica

    • Peter
    • November 7, 2011

    Finally someone who knows the answer to the question I have never been able to answer for myself. I have used blades and a Braun before and decided recently to use a Philips for a change. I too found that it was great on the side of the face but not so good on the neck and chin, or the top lip either and so I have to have a quick scrape with a blade to get it really smooth. And I thought it was just me. I do enjoy not having to lather up everyday and not I keep a 2 head Philips at the office for a late afternoon top up and the 3 head Philips at home for the morning rasp!
    Great work, thanks for the tip and confirming my own view…nice to know there are more than one of us who ask these questions

    1. Thats interesting, most people think the phillips does the best on the neck, and thats why ive heard alota people use those over the braun or remington, or a foil shaver

    • Kevin
    • November 9, 2011

    I have owned the same Norelco electric triple head shaver dating back to the 70s (I think). Never changed the heads or cutting blades and it still works. Thought I would buy a new one. Tried two Norelco and took them back. They pulled my hairs and sounded like they had no power. I just tried a Braun (3 series) and took that back. It was better than Norelco but I like a triple rotary cutting action. I have not seen any good reviews on the Remington. Does this mean all the new shavers are of poor quality. Does anyone recommend a robust electric shaver that will work? Thanks

    1. Remington generally r pievces of shit from my experience. I had a beard trimmer from them, and it broke within a few uses, and the shaver was not worth a damn, the foil screen on it was cheap. Dont buy a remington.

    • Mayur D
    • November 21, 2011

    I’ve never used a rotary or a foil, and lots of people compliment my “shaving skills” since i never have any hair left when i do. The answer i think many shavers miss is trimmers can be good too. it can’t cut that deep and soon enough you need to do it again, but shaving has the same problem. So it’s just like normal.
    I actually just came to see which i should go for if i choose to shave, it sounds like there’s many problems with both and indeed a difficult choice. Nice article by the way, i really liked it.

    • Nihad
    • December 9, 2011

    Hi, guys! I would like to ask you for some advice for foil razor shaving. I bought a Braun’s Cruzer foil shaver 2-3 years ago, but haven’t got a satisfying shave yet. I am pretty satisfied with the result on cheeks, above and below the lips, but below the chin and on the neck the result is awful. I’ve never got a full shave here. It looks like the razor misses or skips the hairs and leaves a single or a bunch of hairs on the beard. Any advices?

    • Kevin
    • December 13, 2011

    @Shavingdetective…I am bald and have been looking to buy an electric razor to be able to cut my whole head and face, but have not run into a lot of promising reviews to help me find the right one. I have been looking at the Braun Series 7-76Occ, but I am not sure. I have been bald since I was 18 and just turned 25 and I get tired of running the blade everyday…Any help is greatly appreciated! Thanks…

    1. Well Kevin – I have never shaven my head (my wife forbids me), so I am probably not the best to ask here. I know there are a few reviews of electric razors for head shaving on At least there will probably be someone there to help you better than I can. 🙂

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    • Michael
    • January 24, 2012

    Im wondering which shaver is best for me . I have used the Braun 360 complete and the Panasonic ES8807. I bought a Panasonic ES-LA93-K and im still taking 30 minutes or so to shave.It is always the upper lip and chin area also the the jaw area and upper neck.I dont know if the Norelco 3D will be better or if panasonic and braun have a differant model that will shave faster and smother

    • Thomas
    • March 1, 2012

    The rotary is great for my face and side burns but burns and stumbles on my chin, neck, chest, and legs. Foil is definitly better in those categories, but your skin will have to get used to that feel.

    • simon
    • December 1, 2012

    Well I have to say I have used a Philishave for 10 years dropped mind and broke it. Went to look up and buy spares- it cost more to buy the parts than a replacement. So I bought a Braun 340s. I wish I went with a foil type head years ago- and the parts are cheaper so it is a big no to Philishave – no more.
    The Braun shave like a we shave so good buy to rotary shavers for good.

    • Brad Williams
    • March 8, 2013

    I’m a manual razor user for basically the last 40yrs. Here is a tip I’d like to share. Instead of shaving gels or foams I use regular hair conditioner like; VO5, Suave, White Rain and the likes. I shave both head and face using a light coating of conditioner and a disposable triple blade razor, usually Schick Xtreme3, Gillette Mach3 or Bic Flex3. I get 5-6 head/face shaves that are smooth as a baby’s butt from each razor using this triple blade/conditioner method. Give it a try. Conditioner: $1
    00-$1.49, Triple blade razors: Look for sales (no lightweight or store brands.

    • Mike
    • October 13, 2013

    I alternate between wet & dry. If I’m not showering of a morning, eg before golf (yes, I’m retired), I have a wet shave. Having noticed ( many years ago) that shaving creams all advised washing the face first, then re-soaping, I guesed that the cream only kept the face moist, so I stopped bothering with it, and have had close painless shaves ever since! I’m probably fortunate in having fine, not thick, hair, so not a tough beard. I use cheap, throw-away razors that last me about 10 shaves.
    After a shower I use a multi-foil razor (have had some excellent Remingtons, by the way!), currently Braun, but don’t think there’s much to choose between them – the technology seems identical. I did like a model I once had with a trimmer between the foil heads.
    I tried a rotary some years ago – nice and quiet compared with a buzzing foil, but a very poor shave and I returned it. I’ve been wondering recently whether to give rotary another try, but reading some of the comments here, I don’t think I’ll bother.

    • Chris
    • May 24, 2014


    I am using a standard razor at present Mach 3, however the blades are really expensive for what they are. I used to have a braun series 3 but it broke a while back, I ‘ve been looking at the rotary Remington AQ-7. Just want to know, do you have to change the heads on these?? like a foil? if so where do you get them from as Remington’s website doesn’t mention or show replacement parts?

    Any advice would be great thanks

      • tom
      • December 3, 2014

      You can buy replacement heads for rotary or foil on Amazon. That’s were I purchase my replacement foil heads for my Braun series 340. It’s a brilliant shaver, takes a while to get used to it but good for long and short hairs. I find it works better with longer hair. I have a heavy growth aswell. I shave before I shower then after shower I use nivia aftershave balm it works a treat.

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    • omkar
    • July 13, 2014

    Hi ,
    I need a suggestions from you guys since you all seem to have very good knowledge and experience. I have used the gillete mach 3 and fusion ever since but whenever i tried to get the closest shave I ended up with irritated skin and bleeding and ingrown hair after. Never really get a dense cover over my face mostly like clean cheeks and goatee sort of spread. For all these years I shave once a week because of the above problem and also there was never a need. My new job requires me to be clean shaved everyday that makes me worry. Can anyone suggest rotary or foil?
    thanks guys !

    • eddy
    • October 12, 2014

    I have used different models of shaver in the past; first shaver was a Philips 3 rotary heads, caused me a lot of irritation, then I bought a Braun foil shaver, the shaving was ok and it lasted me 8 years until the batteries died, I replaced the Braun for a Remington 3 rotary heads, fantastic shaver, very smooth and close shave, it lasted 6 years (the motor just stopped working) then I bought a new model of Remington rotary head R150 R1i rechargeable shaver and I have been using this shaver for the last 4 years just changed the head once during this time and it is great shaver; close, smooth shave and very quiet …..costed me just £35 pounds and last August I bought a Remington FF500 titanium foil shaver to try with a foil (I hadn’t used a foil shaver more than 12 years) and the result is just as good a the rotary shaver, it keeps the charge up to 6 weeks (I shave every day), easy to use and very effective in the neck area, 0 irritation and super close smooth shave.
    both shavers have good points and down falls as fallow:
    Remington rotary shaver R150 R1i steel series, very quiet, close shave, charge last 4 1/2 weeks, it does not need cleaning very often, once a week is enough heads last up to 2 years. down points is that it may give some minor irritation but in general very good shaver
    Remington foil shaver FF500 titanium series is very fast, good for daily shaving, super close shave and irritation free, a bit noisy and the foil last for about 16 months but you must clean it every 2 to3 days. I also recommend to use a pre-electric lotion before using your electric shaver,it will help to get a very close shave and with not irritation much better than shaving without it; also when you clean your shaver put a drop of oil in the cutter to keep them in good sharp conditions this will help them to last longer.

    • tony
    • November 30, 2014

    I use a Panasonic foil razor and have for many years, I have tried other makes of foil razors including linear drive heads plus rotary in my youth. My facial hair used to be quit dark, but is slowly growing grey. After shaving for over fifty years I think I have found a good compromise.

    Hot water, to wet the face then baby oil, then my Panasonic foil razor, after finishing with the foil razor I wet my face by splashing my face with hot water (do not use a flannel as it will wipe off any residual oil). Then finish off with a wet razor, this shave will last from morning to evening, it is really close and does not appear to give razor burn.



    The baby oil is very cheap, I now use Tescos own brand razors, as the main brands have become stupidly expensive. My only criticism of the Panasonic is the rechargeable battery, it is rubbish. I have never had one last more the 18 months, but it does give a close shave. To have the battery’s replaced is only slightly cheaper then buying a new one. Why can they not make these easily replaceable, environmentally and financially much better.

    • Uinsin O'Riabhaigh
    • February 26, 2015

    Nay, the closeness and therapeutic effect of the ritual wet shave with a safety razor is unequaled.

    • Norman Speight
    • September 22, 2015

    Used Philips rotary for years, had many. When new, the cutters do a very good job. Unfortunately, replacement heads are always of very poor quality probably due to suppliers, including Philips themselves, going to the cheapest supplier they can find with little attention to the quality of steel and additives to strengthen the cutters being absent or of a minimum amount. Subsequently blades lose their edge very quickly. In other words, poor buying from Philips looking only at cheapness. This applies even more to other-than-Philips vendors. Quality is the last thing, price only is the top so customers get poor quality where at one time they could guarantee high quality. I’m 81, so can go back to the earliest models in my choice. Also, the price paid for these makes no difference to the quality obtained. I’ve paid a lot, received the same appalling quality. Considering what is in an electric razor, the initial purchase price is also excessive. Presumably due to fancy fees paid to ‘designers’.
    Quality is the most misused term in this field. Probably why Philips is now but a shadow of it’s former dominant business. I am an engineeer by the way, so have more than the average knowledge of metals, not some amateur with uniformed opinion.

    • Geoff
    • November 19, 2015

    Always been a blade man until about 7yrs ago when I thought I give electric a try. I purchased top of the line Braun Complete 360 and immediately noticed that I no longer had a close shave .
    The fact that blades are closer is a no brainer but persisted on & off with the foil .
    I found that washing face & neck before a shave definitely improved the closeness using the Braun.
    Also tried my sons Philips rotary blade ( also big $$$ with bells & whistles ) as a comparison & wasn’t impressed.
    Interesting to note that he also tried my Braun foil & was also unimpressed.
    I’ve reached a conclusion ….both electrics much quicker & more convenient to use a blade razor , but never expect to achieve a closer shave .
    My recommendation regarding the Braun . seven years & it still looks & performes like new .
    I don’t know how it will be after just purchasing replacement foil & cutter which I will fit tonight.

  5. I recently moved more over to the electric shavers myself. Definitely time saving and more convenient.

    • francescollier
    • February 26, 2016

    I prefer the Karmin T7 😉

  6. I have used electric shavers for about 27 years; I have tried Braun (dry/wet) foil shavers, Philips (dry/wet) rotary shavers and Remington foil/rotary dry shavers; it is just a matter of preferences and also depending of your face angles, type of skin, and how thin or tick is your facial hair; include in this that there are many guys that do not have any idea how to get the best of their electric shavers, first you must pick up the right electric shaver for your face; second: you have to make sure the shaver is rechargeable as this type of shavers give you more freedom as with one charge you can shave up to 2-3 weeks, and three: you must learn a good Technic for your shaving…….this is important as otherwise you will get not just a patchy shaving but a lot of irritations and shaving razor burns……
    I use now Braun 340s-40 wet/dry foil shaver and Remington FF500 foil shaver, both I use them in a dry shaving (although sometimes I use the Braun with cream or gel for a wet shaving)
    both are wonderful shavers, do not leave my face irritated or any razor burns, the shave is very close and smooth as I have improved my Technic with time and also make sure I use a good pre-electric lotion before every shave, then to finish I apply to my skin aftershave balm……this method have paid off and I can guarantee to any one that learning the right procedures you will love the electric shaving and never will go back to manual razors.
    and the last important thing is…….keep the shaver clean, clean, clean, clean …….always clean it at the least after every 2-3 shaves, this will ensure your shaver will keep in a tip top conditions and will last you for years with good working service to your face……..saving you money along run…………I have had shavers in the past that lasted me 9 years the longest and 5 years the shortest (I dropped by accident my tree head Remington dry shaver and broke it, it was 5 years old of good shavings)… there you have, electric shavers have been the best choice I made many years ago about my shaving ……and I never regretted and never went back to manual blades.

    • Ross Firestone
    • September 15, 2016

    I have used an electric shaver for over 60 years since blade razors irritate my skin. I started with a Schick single blade foil shaver. Over the years I have tried Norelco, Braun, Remington and others I have forgotten. The rotary shavers irritate my skin while the foil shavers didn’t produce as close a shave. About five years ago I tried a Panasonic 3 blade foil shaver with their 13,000 rpm linear motor. Dry, it shaved almost as closely as a rotary shaver but without the irritation. Since it is a wet or dry shaver, if shaving cream is used it, by actual test, it shaves as closely as a safety razor but without the irritation. In addition, if the battery runs down it can be recharged for one shave in 5 minutes. The only disadvantage is the foil is so thin, Panasonic claims nanometer technology, it has to be replaced annually or it tears and scratches your face. The blades have to be replaced biannually.

    Panasonic makes other shavers with 10,000 rpm motors which are not as good. In addition, they offer much more expensive 13,000 rpm shavers with 4 or more blades, tilting heads and other features which I find are no better than my 3 blade fixed head 13,000 rpm shaver but cost up to five times a much.

    • Lorraing Lloyd
    • September 25, 2016

    My husband takes Plavix. He has been using the manual razor and when he cuts himself, it is hard to stop the bleeding. Time for an electric shaver, but which type?

      • Edinson
      • February 25, 2018

      if your husband has very thick hair and do not shaves every day then use rotary shaver (if it’s dry shave try pre-electric lotion before shaving); but if he shaves every day then better to get a foil shaver for a free irritation close shave and again use the pre-electric lotion before each shave to ensure a close and clean shave.
      you can get new models now with the wet/dry option for a better choice if you want to use it wet for everyday shaving or dry for a fast convenient shave and always make sure you clean and lubricate your shaver from time to time so it(the shaver) will last very long time and will give you a good shave every time he uses it.

    • Peter
    • October 6, 2016

    I’m having an odd experience with my Philips cheap cord-only 3-head rotary shaver: one of the 3 heads has been increasingly making a loud rattling sound. Rotating the heads or the holding-piece makes no difference, it’s as if the shaft in that position is losing its grip up into the head. You can see the blades spinning erratically, compared to the other 2 positions, which seem to turn so fast that they are just a blur. Can this unit be saved? Thanks!

    • Joe
    • October 15, 2016

    As you pointed out there is no straight answer to which one is the better shaver – foil or rotary? I think your idea of using both rotary and foil shaver to tackle different contours and hairs of the face is a great way to get the best out of the two type of shaver for people with tricky hair and facial contour.

    • Selna
    • November 21, 2016

    Definitivamente la afeitadora electirca de Karmin 😀

    • Vincent Rea
    • December 30, 2016

    I read somewhere that the blades of all Philips rotary shavers are the same the design only that one model more expensive than another?

    • Marc
    • March 7, 2017

    Hi, I have used Philips shavers on and off for the last decade but in the last 2-3 years I’ve developed ingrowing hairs and wondered about switching to foil. Does a foil shaver avoid ingrowing hairs?

    1. Hmm.. In itself, the foil shaver does not prevent ingrown hairs better than the rotary shaver, but for some people it might. Have you changed anything in the last 2-3 years that may have caused this? Do you shave at other times of the day now or anything?

    • Robert Kopp
    • April 16, 2017

    Having paid through the nose for a couple of Fusion blades I will be switching to electric. Am leaning to the Braun Series 7.

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