Switching to electric shavers can offer quite a few benefits — convenience and comfort being among the most compelling ones.
Electric razors, as you probably know, come in two flavors: foil and rotary. Personal preference aside, there are some specific advantages to using one or the other.
In this article I’ll go over what I consider to be the most important traits of foil shavers; we’ll also take a close look at some of the more popular models and hopefully help you decide what would be the best foil shaver for you.
What is a foil shaver?
The foil shaver was introduced as a refinement of the original electric shaver patented by Jacob Shick. Remington was actually the first company to use the micro-foil: a thin, perforated metal screen that covered the blades and vastly improved the comfort during use.
The design was constantly refined throughout the years, but the basic principle has remained unchanged.
Foil shavers use sharp reciprocating (oscillating) blades that move sideways at very high speed behind a protective screen, cutting the hairs that enter through the perforations in the foil.
Today’s modern electric shavers also include specially designed cutting elements that are able to capture and trim long, flat lying hairs.
Advantages of foil shavers
Foil shavers differ dramatically in the way they operate from their rotary counterparts, but both can yield excellent results. This difference leads to specific advantages in the case of both, making them more or less suitable for a particular situation.
Let’s see what are the pros of foil shavers.
1. Foil shavers offer the closest shave.
This seems to be generally accepted among men using electric shavers and it also reflects my personal opinion on this matter. I’ve been using electric razors for more than 15 years and have come across quite a few, both rotary and foil.
At least in my particular case —thick beard and sensitive skin— I almost always got better results in terms of closeness when using foil shavers.
The reason for this is probably the micro-foil itself, being extremely thin. The protective metal guards found on rotary razors are usually thicker and this acts as a physical barrier between the blades and the skin.
There are of course men who prefer rotary razors and actually get better results with them and that’s fine as well. Always use whatever works best for you.
2. Foil shavers are better suited for sensitive skin.
This is another case of a generally accepted statement in the electric shaving community; foil razors seem to work better with sensitive, blemish prone skin than rotary shavers. Again, this may not always the case.
3. Foil shavers are easier to clean manually.
A cleaning station can be very practical for cleaning, sanitizing and lubricating your razor after every use. However, not all electric razor come with one; plus, some of these stations aren’t as good as others and the running costs can go pretty high.
In this case your only option is a manual cleaning.
For the vast majority of foil shavers, a manual clean is very easy and straight forward, implying just some liquid soap and rinsing under hot tap water.
Rotary razors require a thorough cleaning that must be performed every once in a while; this implies completely taking apart the shaving head and individually cleaning each cutter.
This is a fiddly and time consuming operation; also, the cutters must be assembled back in the exact same positions or the shaver won’t perform optimally.
4. Foil shavers are better for touch ups and finesse work.
Having a straight edge allows for more control when shaving tricky areas, like around your sideburns or goatee. Also, by using straight, shorter strokes as opposed to circular motions you have more precision compared to a rotary razor.
This very straight forward construction and operation also makes foil shavers an excellent choice for beginners.
5. A wider selection of brands and models.
While your only viable option for a rotary razor is Philips Norelco, there are a lot of options from Braun, Panasonic and Remington in the case of foil shavers.
Finding the best foil shaver for you
The best foil shaver is ultimately the right shaver; when deciding what electric razor to buy, you should consider things like the coarseness of your beard, how often you shave, budget constraints or if you have sensitive skin that is prone to blemishes and irritation.
In this section I’ll go in-depth over some of my favorite foil shavers; for each one I will try to point out its key features and what exactly makes it the best option for a particular case.
1. Braun Series 7 797cc
The Series 7 797cc from Braun is an electric shaver that ticks pretty much all the boxes. In fact, it’s very difficult to come up with situations where the 797cc wouldn’t make an excellent choice.
As far as foil shavers go, the 797cc is in my opinion one of the best all-rounders you can currently buy. Its predecessor, the Series 7 790cc was one of the best-selling electric razors in recent years and was often regarded as the benchmark in terms of performance and comfort.
The Series 7 797cc represents an incremental improvement of the 790cc by adding wet & dry shaving capabilities. Apart from that, it is an identical product. And that’s a good thing.
Let’s see what makes the 797cc one of the best foil shavers you can buy.
- Probably the most comfortable shaves of any electric razor. The Series 7 is notorious for its gentle and smooth operation, making it a prime candidate for men with sensitive skin. The 797cc can also be used with a shaving cream to further improve the comfort. The use of micro-vibrations makes the shaving feel more like a massage. It really is an enjoyable experience using it.
- Close shaves. The Series 7 797cc is capable of providing very comfortable shaves without trade-offs in closeness, even if you have a very thick facial hair. It’s also very effective at dealing with slightly longer hairs by using a specially designed middle trimmer that captures stray hairs. This is an area where other foil shavers fail to perform decently. This makes the Series 7 also suitable for men that don’t shave daily.
- Excellent cleaning station. Braun’s cleaning stations use alcohol based solutions that clean, sanitize and lubricate the shaver. Moreover, the cleaning cycles are short and quiet as the units that come with the Series 7 use induction heat for the drying phase instead of a fan.
- Reliability, running costs and build quality. Braun has gained a reputation for the reliability and build quality of its electric razors throughout the years. The 797cc is no exception and with proper care and maintenance, it will last for many years. The replacement blades and foil called a cassette can be found at a decent price and will need to be replaced once every 18 months, way above the industry standard of 12 months.
With great features, class-leading performance and excellent value for money (despite a rather high purchase price), you cannot really go wrong with the 797cc. Unless you’re already using a top of the line razor, it will probably be a solid upgrade from your current electric shaver.
In my personal opinion, the 797cc is one of the best foil shavers in this price range especially for being a great all-rounder.
Who shouldn’t buy the 797cc? First of all, if your budget is limited, there are more affordable options below. Secondly, if you’re only going to use it dry, there’s no point in paying extra money for the wet & dry feature you won’t be taking advantage of. Instead, check out the next recommendation.
2. Braun Series 7 790cc
The popular Series 790cc is still one of the best foil razors you can buy today. Identical to the 797cc presented above, the 790cc can only be used for dry shaving. And that’s pretty much the only difference between the two.
It comes with the same excellent cleaning station and uses the same shaving head to give you a close and comfortable dry shave. Being cheaper than its wet & dry counterpart, the 790cc offers even better value for money.
An excellent, more cost-effective alternative to the Series 7 is Braun’s new Series 5 shavers. With an almost identical shaving performance, the Series 5 costs less and has some excellent features. You can check out an in-depth comparison of the Series 5 an 7 here.
3. Braun Series 9 9290cc
To be perfectly honest, I was having second thoughts about including the Series 9 in my list of recommended foil shavers. Allow me to explain why.
While the Series 9 is probably one of the fastest, most powerful and advanced electric razors you can buy today, the performance difference between it and the Series 7 is not so obvious to justify the premium price tag of the Series 9.
However, the price of the Series 9 has seen a significant drop lately and it now represents a very attractive option.
With an additional cutting element and a more powerful motor, the Series 9 is a beefed up Series 7 that will have no issue mowing through a few days of growth with ease. The closeness is among the best you can expect from an electric shaver.
If you have very coarse facial hair and want one of the most comfortable, close and fast shaves and the price is not an issue, then the Series 9 is the one for you. I would personally go for a variation of the Series 9 that also includes the clean & charge station, like the 9290cc.
However, I do think the vast majority of men will be perfectly satisfied with the less expensive Series 7 or 5 and I actually recommend them over the Series 9 for this very reason. You can also check my article about the Braun Series 7 vs 9 for more details.
4. Panasonic ES-LV61-A Arc5
The Arc 5 represents the premium line of electric shavers from Panasonic, the other big name in the foil shavers market alongside Braun.
Currently there are three generations of Arc 5 shavers and they’re all still available. While they are different in terms of design, price and included accessories, the performance is similar, especially with regards to closeness.
The latest generation brings along a host of improvements, like an all metal body and comfort rollers, but the price of the shavers and replacement parts is still pretty high at the moment.
And this is the main reason why I think the ES-LV61-A from the first generation Arc 5 line represents the best choice for most men, especially in terms of cost and performance ratio.
First of all, due to the fact that it doesn’t include an automatic cleaning station it costs significantly less than other Arc 5 razors that come with one.
Since Panasonic’s cleaning stations from the first generation Arc 5 are not exactly the best – they are bulky, the detergent cartridges can leak, the cleaning cycles are longer and noisier compared to Braun – you’ll probably be better off without one.
The area where the Panasonic Arc5 shavers excel is shaving performance. With a very fast 14 000 CPM motor, 5 cutting elements and blades sharpen at a very aggressive 30 degrees angle, this Panasonic ES-LV61-A is capable of providing extremely close and fast shaves.
In my personal experience, Arc 5 shavers outperform even the Series 9 when it comes strictly to the closeness of the shave. On the other hand, Braun still has the edge in terms of comfort. For more details, here is an in-depth analysis of the Arc5 vs Series 9 shavers.
Some will be put off by the fact that the ES-LV61-A doesn’t have a cleaning station, but remember that manually cleaning a foil razor is very simple and takes little time.
Panasonic razors are also easier to clean compared to Braun shavers for example as the foil and blades can be individually taken apart and thoroughly cleaned.
Most Braun razors use a cassette, with the blades and foil merged into one piece and that makes a manual clean more difficult.
If you still want the convenience of a cleaning station, definitely check out a shaver from the second or third generation Arc 5, like the Panasonic ES-LV95-A.
The updated cleaning stations now use detergent that can be bought in sachets and are reasonably priced. Moreover, the cleaning stations are more compact in size and take less counter-top real estate.
The ES-LV61-A Arc5 is a great choice for men who want very close and fast shaves. The powerful motor and very sharp blades make it ideal for coarse hair.
The massive shaving head covers large surfaces with ease and can be successfully used for shaving your head as well.
5. Panasonic ES-LA63-S Arc 4
The ES-LA63-S is a very popular electric razor from Panasonic and I constantly find myself recommending it more often than any other razor.
The reason is quite simple: it represents a very compelling package. It gives very close and comfortable shaves, has the same 14 000 CPM motor as the more expensive Arc 5 shavers, it uses the same 30 degrees nanoblades and it is reasonably priced.
The Arc 4 in its names refers to the fact that it has 4 cutting elements, still plenty enough for anyone’s needs. Moreover, this shaver has a secondary motor inside the actual shaving head that causes vibrations in the foil, making hairs stand up for an efficient shave.
The performance of the ES-LA63-S is remarkable for its price, making it by far the best deal in terms of cost and performance. You will not get a cleaning station in this price range, but as I said previously, Panasonic shavers are dead easy to clean.
6. Panasonic ES8103S Arc3
If you’re looking for a very capable, but inexpensive wet & dry foil shaver that you’ll be using daily for the majority of time, then the Panasonic ES8103S represents a very solid option.
As it’s the case with the premium Arc 5 line from Panasonic, you have quite a few razors to choose from in the Arc 3 category.
My personal pick is the ES8103S because it offers the best performance for the money. There are other newer shavers as well, but apart from a different color, design and a fancier LED display, the performance is very similar for all Arc 3 razors.
There is also a new iteration of the Arc3 line, but we won’t be referring to them as they currently cost way too much.
The closeness and comfort of this entry level shaver from Panasonic are very good. You’ll still get an impressively fast 13 000 CPM motor and Panasonic’s sharp nanoblades.
It’s worth pointing out that you’ll get the best results using this razor when shaving daily. Men that don’t have very thick facial hair can get away with using it every other day or every two days. You can read a full review of the Panasonic ES8103S here.
7. Braun Series 3 3040s ProSkin
The Series 3 represents Braun’s alternative to Panasonic’s entry level Arc 3 line. With a reasonable price, good performance and excellent comfort during use, the Series 3 represents a very attractive package, especially when you have a limited budget.
The foil shavers from the Series 3 includes several variations for different needs. Therefore, we have dry only shavers, wet & dry shavers and optional cleaning stations.
However, all of them use the same shaving head and the performance is identical. Picking one comes down to the features you actually need.
My personal favorite is the 3040s I reviewed a while ago. It is a wet & dry razor that works great for daily use and it’s very reasonably priced. Also, the shaving head only needs to be replaced once every 18 months and costs half the price of a similar Panasonic Arc 3 foil & blades combo.
In my personal experience, the Panasonic is slightly better in terms of closeness and definitely faster. For these reasons I would actually prefer it to the 3040s, despite the higher running costs. A full comparison between the two is available here.
If dry shaving sounds more like your thing, check out the Braun Series 3 3050cc. It comes with a cleaning station and while it’s a more basic version of the one from the Series 7, it’s still quite good and very practical.
I would also like to point out that both the Panasonic Arc 3 and Braun Series 3 are entry-level foil shavers. This means that while the results are quite good for shaving daily, they cannot match the speed and performance of the more powerful, advanced razors presented above.
So far I have only talked about what makes the best foil shaver and I haven’t mentioned anything about their disadvantages. That’s not to say that there aren’t any, so let’s get right to it.
First and foremost, foil shavers are definitely noisier during use; a rotary shaver is generally very quiet due to the lower speed of the motor and the lack of vibrations (caused by the reciprocating blades in the case of foil shavers).
Also, the straight edge of the shaving head makes shaving certain portions of your face a bit more difficult; I am talking about the jaw line and other nooks and crannies.
Rotary razors, especially the more advanced ones, have cutters that can flex and tilt inwards and maintain constant contact with the skin. This trait of rotary razors can be beneficial for men with very prominent facial features.
Some may also argue that rotary razors are better for longer and coarser facial hair. While this can be the case with entry level, basic foil shavers, I haven’t found rotary razors to be significantly better in this regard compared to an advanced foil shaver. Rotary razors do seem to deal better with hairs that grow in different directions.
Finally, after reading this article, you’ll hopefully have a clearer picture of what makes a particular foil razor more suitable than other for a given situation.
Don’t forget to check out our reviews section as well for thorough, in-depth reviews of more foil shavers.