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.
Most of today’s modern electric shavers feature two micro-foils, but also include specially designed cutting elements that are able to capture and trim longer, flat lying hairs.
The more advanced electric foil shavers can have two or even three specialized cutting elements.
Below you can see two different implementations of a 4 blade cutting system.
On the left, the Braun Series 9 9290cc uses two trimmers flanked by two regular foils. One is designed to capture hairs that grow in different directions, while the other one (colored in gold) lifts and cuts flat lying hairs.
The Panasonic Arc 4 ES-LF51-S on the right uses only one trimmer for tackling longer hairs and a third finishing foil for cutting hairs very close to the skin.
As a result, the Series 9 is more capable at shaving longer, flat lying hairs that grow in different directions, while the Panny generally offers closer shaves, but it’s not as good at shaving longer whiskers.
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 that use 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 — coarse facial hair 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 they act as a physical barrier between the blades and the skin.
The thinner the barrier, the closer the shave.
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 and your mileage may vary. Anecdotal findings should be looked at as starting point, not absolute truths.
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.
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.
Things are usually lot simpler for foil razors.
For the majority of foil shavers, a manual clean is very easy and straight forward, implying just some liquid soap and rinsing under hot tap water.
However, some foil shavers are easier to clean than others. For example, in the case of Panasonic and Remington shavers you can separate the inner blades from the foils and you have great access to clean them thoroughly.
On the other hand, Braun uses the so called cassettes, with the blades and foils merged into a single piece, offering very limited access and a manual cleaning is more difficult in this case.
In the above image you can see the foil and frame of a Panasonic Arc 4 (left) vs the cassette of a Braun Series 9 (right).
4. Foil shavers are better for touch ups and finesse work.
Having a straight edge allows you to have more control when shaving tricky areas, like around your sideburns or goatee. Also, by using straight, shorter strokes as opposed to circular overlapping motions you have more precision compared to a rotary razor.
This very straight forward 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 foil 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 over some of my favorite foil shavers; for each one I will try to point out its key features and what exactly makes it a suitable option for a particular case.
1. Braun Series 7 790cc
The Series 7 790cc from Braun is an electric shaver that ticks pretty much all the right boxes.
It’s a great all-rounder and there are only a few situations where the 790cc wouldn’t make an excellent choice.
As one of the best-selling electric razors in recent years, it was often regarded as the benchmark in terms of performance and comfort.
Let’s see what makes the 790cc one of the best foil shavers on the market.
Comfort during the shave.
The Series 7 is notorious for its gentle and smooth operation, making it a prime candidate for men with sensitive skin.
The Series 7 790cc is capable of providing very comfortable shaves without major trade-offs in closeness.
It’s not the closest shaving razor in this price range — the Panasonic Arc 4 is still the best in this regard — but most men will be satisfied with it.
Excellent cleaning station.
Braun’s cleaning stations use an alcohol based solution that cleans, sanitizes and lubricates the shaver.
Moreover, the cleaning cycles are short and quiet as the units that come with the Series 7 use induction heat for drying the shaving head instead of a fan.
Who shouldn’t buy the Series 7 790cc?
In my opinion, the 790cc is one of the best foil shavers in this price range especially for being a great all-rounder.
However, it won’t always be the best choice.
First of all, if your budget is limited, there are more affordable options below, like the Series 5 or the Panasonic Arc 4.
Secondly, if you don’t shave daily or every other day and have wiry, flat lying hairs, a Braun Series 9 will be more suitable.
And finally, if the closeness of the shave is particularly important to you, there are other shavers that will outperform the Series 7 for roughly the same money, like a Panasonic Arc 4 or a second generation Panasonic Arc 5.
2. Braun Series 9 9290cc
While the Series 9 is probably the most comfortable shaver you can buy today, the performance difference between it and the Series 7 couldn’t 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, a powerful motor and a more advanced flexible shaving head, the Series 9 is a beefed up Series 7 that will have no issue mowing through a few days of growth with ease.
This is in my opinion the greatest asset of the Series 9 and its main advantage over the Series 7.
Braun’s implementation of specially designed trimmers makes the Series 9 better at dealing with longer, flat lying hairs than any other foil razor.
The Series 9 9290cc that I reviewed in great detail here is also the most comfortable electric shaver I’ve used so far. It’s an ideal option for men with very sensitive skin.
If you have very coarse facial hair, you don’t shave very often, want one of the most comfortable and fast shaves and the price is not an issue, then the Series 9 is the one for you.
The closeness is very good, but again, not the best among high-end shavers. The Panasonic Arc 5 is the best when it comes strictly to the closeness, but the comfort of the Series 9 is unmatched.
For a detailed comparison between the Series 9 and the Arc 5 check out this post.
I would personally go for a variation of the Series 9 that includes a clean & charge station, like the 9290cc. As we’ve seen, manually cleaning a Braun shaver is not as easy and the cleaning station is a very welcome addition in this case.
3. Panasonic ES-LV65-S Arc 5
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 very high at this moment.
And this is the main reason why I think the ES-LV65-S from the second generation Arc 5 line represents the best choice for most men as it costs a whole lot less, but it’s still very close performancewise.
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.
And to be perfectly honest, you don’t really need one. Panasonic shavers are extremely easy to clean manually and even include a special cleaning mode that makes the blades vibrate extremely fast, dislodging any stubborn hair clippings or dirt.
The area where the Panasonic Arc 5 shavers excel is shaving performance, particularly the closeness of the shave.
With a very fast 14 000 CPM motor, 5 cutting elements and blades sharpen at a very aggressive 30 degrees angle, this Panasonic ES-LV65-S 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.
If you still want the convenience of a cleaning station, this shaver is available with one as well in the form of the Panasonic ES-LV95-A.
Panasonic’s station are excellent and the running costs are less compared to Braun, but as I said previously, they’re not really necessary.
The ES-LV65-S 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.
4. 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 provides 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 mentioned previously, Panasonic shavers are dead easy to clean manually.
5. Braun Series 5 5090cc
The Series 5 from Braun is a very interesting family of electric shavers.
Performance-wise, they’re right up there with the Series 7, even though they lack some of their features, like the personalization modes.
They also come with a more basic cleaning station that lacks any active system for drying the shaver.
However, given the fact that they are very reasonably priced and the performance is still excellent, they represent a viable alternative to the Series 7 if you have a limited budget.
The 5090cc is probably the most popular Series 5 as it comes with a cleaning station and the price is right as well.
Just like the Series 7, the Series 5 shines when it comes to comfort, being very gentle and forgiving, perfectly suitable for men with sensitive skin.
The foils remain cool during use and you won’t experience any razor burn or pulling on the hairs.
If you’re mostly interested with the closeness of the shave, the Panasonic Arc 4 would be a better option.
You can read my review of the Series 5 5090cc here.
6. Panasonic ES8103S Arc 3
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 would be 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 Arc 3 line, but I 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 catering to 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 that 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.
The Series 3 is however more comfortable and better suited for sensitive skin. 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.
The disadvantages of foil shavers
So far I have only talked about what makes a good 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 fare better with hairs that grow in different directions.
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.
If you have any other questions make sure to post them in the comments below.