The Best Foil Shaver: A Buyer’s Guide
Welcome to our post about foil shavers! If you're an old pro with electric shavers, or if you're used to regular blade razors and want to make the switch, you're in the right spot.
In the discussion below, we'll provide a quick overview of the buying factors you'll want to keep in mind if you're in the market to buy a foil shaver, and then we'll give a quick review of our favorite models (including our choice for best foil shaver overall). After that, for those of you who want to really get a deeper understanding of what a foil shaver is and what it can do, we'll provide an in-depth look at how foils work, how they compare to rotaries, and how you can get the most out of the model you buy.
Foil Shavers: Buying Features to Keep in Mind
Regular cartridge razors are pretty simple—it's basically a handle and a slab of sharpened steel, and you drag it across your face to remove whiskers. Electric shavers—and in particular, foil shavers—are a little more complicated. They've got a lot of features, and every model is just a little bit different.
With that in mind, here are some of the buying elements you'll want to consider if you're looking to purchase one.
Shaving Quality. As a general rule of thumb, newer shavers usually offer closer shaves. The two main manufacturers of electric foil shavers are Braun and Panasonic (with, perhaps, Remington a close third). Those companies put an incredible amount of effort into research and development, and each new product they offer includes patented technology designed to help you get a closer shave. That technology often has some odd names—from Braun, you may hear about "AutoSense Technology" and "OptiFoil" features; from Panasonic, you may hear about the "NanoTech Blades" and the "Multi-Fit Arc Foil"—but each of those functions basically translates to a closer shave, and we'll go over all of those terms below.
For Brauns—the manufacturer of what are perhaps the most popular foil electric shavers—the Series 9 is their newest product line (at this time of this post, anyway), their Series 7 is their second oldest product line, the Series 5 is older than that, and the Series 3 came before that one. For Panasonic shavers, the Arc shavers are, from newest to oldest, the Arc5, the Arc4, and the Arc3. Each model has the same number of blades in its name—the Arc5 has five blades, the Arc4 has four, and, you guessed it, the Arc3 has three blades. As a general rule of thumb, for Panasonics, more blades = a closer shave.
Wet/Dry Capability. Most foil shavers have wet/dry functionality, but if you've never owned an electric shaver before, you may not even know that this is feature exists. Wet/Dry capability means that you can use the shaver when you've got shaving cream or gel on your face (that's the "wet" part of things), but also when you're not using any cream or gel at all (and that's the "dry" aspect). It's a fantastic feature, and it's something you may want to look out for.
A lot of guys confuse wet/dry capability with waterproof capability. "Waterproof" means that you can use that shaver on wet skin, rinse it in water when you're at your bathroom sink, and even take it into the shower with you, if you want to shave while the water runs over you. Obviously, if you want to bring your electric shaver in the shower with you, you'll want to carefully read the owner's manual and be 100% certain that your shaver is shower-friendly. Most wet/dry shavers are waterproof, and most Braun wet/dry shavers are waterproof up to five meters deep (which is kind of a funny feature, if you think about it).
A Pop-Out Trimmer. This is a really nice feature that most new (or newer) electric razors come with: a trimmer that will pop off the main razor and can do precise detail work. There are even some high-end shavers that have different settings, that allow you to set the length of your whiskers. If you like a super-close shave, there's a setting for that; if you like a "stubbly" look, there's a setting for that, too. Some shavers come with up to five length settings, that go all the way up to "short beard." If you're a high-and-dry kind of guy who wants a close shave every time, that may be a feature you can overlook, but if you like to switch things up every once on a while, it can be a great option.
A Cleaning Station. These are pretty fascinating: the charging station itself is also a cleaning station, and when you put your electric shaver into the station, it rinses it clean of any loose whiskers, disinfects all the blades in the shaving head, and dries all of the individual parts of the shaver. You can do all of that manually—and many men do all that manually—but it can be a nice feature to have, especially if you're rushed for time (or simply don't like cleaning things). Cleaning stations used to be featured as an add-on for higher-end models, but they're becoming more of a regular feature.
Battery-Related Features. As with any electronic device, this is important: the re-charge period, the life of the battery, and automatic "shut-off" features. Shavers have come a long way in terms of their capacity to hold a charge, and many only need an hour or two for a full charge, and they can hold that charge for up to an hour. In fact, some higher-end models on the market only need a few minutes' worth of charging, and they'll last long enough for a comfortable shave. If you're the kind of guy who always charges a shaver immediately after use—and that probably describes most of us, with the exception of those guys who travel a lot—it's not a huge concern, but it's definitely something to look out for.
And, for those of us who may not charge the device after every use, an "automatic shutoff" function is pretty helpful. After a set amount of time, the device shuts itself off, and that can be a life-saver if you get absent-minded, forget to charge your shaver, and then find the next morning that the device has no juice because it was left on all night.
Money-Back Guarantees and Warranties. Shavers usually have a pretty generous return period—most manufacturers have a 30-day return policy, and a warranty that goes up to two years. Not all manufacturers are the same, though, and you may want to compare plans. Pro-Tip: some warranties exclude certain parts from the warranty, like shaving heads or cleaning stations or something like that, so keep an eye out for that type of language in the warranty itself. As we said, most warranties and return periods are pretty straight-forward, but it never hurts to read the fine print.
Sensitive Skin. It doesn't get talked about too much, but there are a LOT of guys out there with sensitive skin. If that's you, there are models that have a "sensitive skin" setting, and there are other models that are specifically designed for men with sensitive skin (and we discuss that model below in our "Review" section), as well as older/elderly men. We've found that both are good options (and, as a general rule, the "wet" setting is widely believed to be easier on the skin than the "dry" setting).
It's important to also note that if you're used to using regular razors—either disposables, cartridge razors, or even safety razors or straight razors—switching to an electric shaver often comes with an "itchy transition period." Electric shavers are a lot different than traditional blade razors, and they shorten your whiskers in a way that's very, very different than the traditional "with a regular razor" shave. It's not uncommon for your skin to freak out a little bit, and get red, or bumpy, or tender. For many guys, those reactions tend to go away after a couple of uses with an electric shaver, after your skin acclimates to the shave the device provides.
Our Foil Shaver Reviews
Here are our picks for the best foil shaver. We've split them up into our favorite mid-range option, our pick for dry foil, our best-all-around options (it's a two-way tie), and our pick for the best high-end option. First up:
The Braun Series 3 ProSkin 3010s—Best "Mid-Range" Option
As you may have noticed (or will soon), electric shavers range from "normal shaver" to "ridiculously high-tech." Sometimes you just need a mid-range, nuts-and-bolts model—one that's reliable, and gets the job done. Our choice for a reliable, get-'er-done model would be the Braun Series 3 ProSkin 3010s.
The ProSkin 3010s is a very capable razor that's wet/dry capable, so you can use it without shaving cream (and that would be that "dry" capability) or you can use it with shaving cream (and that would be that "wet" capability). You can even bring it in the shower with you—and that's a great feature if you hate standing in front of the sink to shave (and, take it from us—as dudes who sweat a lot after a shower, the ability to shave in the shower is pretty fantastic).
Perhaps the best feature about the ProSkin 3010s is that it can be a good match for thicker, courser whiskers. If you take a peek at the cutting surfaces on the top of the shaver, the middle cutting surface has deep groves in it, designed to gather long whiskers to be cut. It still works for men with lighter facial hair—those super-small perforations in the top foil and the bottom foil capture thinner whiskers to be cut—but in our experience, it really stands out as a good option for thicker-bearded guys (which isn't the case for a lot of foil shavers).
It doesn't have all of the functionality that later models do—most significantly, the foils on the top are not flexible, so you'll need to use some extra care when shaving underneath your chin and jawline—but it's still a great option that gets the job done. We think it's a fantastic razor, and even though Braun has released many newer models, the ProSkin 3010s remains a fan favorite.
The Remington F5-5800 Foil Shaver—Our Pick for Dry Foil
Not everyone needs the functionality of a wet/dry shaver—that is, one that you can use with shaving cream, or directly on the skin without shaving cream—and if you're looking for a dry option, we would suggest the Remington F5-5800 Foil Shaver.
The F5-5800 provides all the core functionality you'd want from a foil shaver: it has three cutting surfaces (thin foils at the top of the shaving head and at the bottom, with a central shaving surface for longer hairs); it has a pop-up trimmer tool that can be used to put a sharp edge on beards, goatees, and sideburns; and it can be used for corded or cordless use. Perhaps the best feature of the F5-5800, though, is that unlike some other entry-level options, the shaving surface at the top of the shaver does offer some flexibility, designed so the head can more easily trace the contours of your face, and provide a close shave.
And, finally, we've found that it's easy to use—even though it's a "dry" shaver (again—meaning that you can't use it with shaving cream or gel), you can rinse it clean with water underneath the faucet. That's a lot of functionality for an entry-level shaver, and it's a good match for a lot of guys (and in particular, guys who are new to shaving).
Best Foil for Women and Men: The Panasonic ES8243A Arc4
It's easy to forget that although most electric shavers are marketed towards men, a lot—like, a lot a lot—of women use them on their legs. If you're a woman and you're looking for a shaver (or if you're a guy and you're looking for one for your female partner), the Panasonic ES8243A Arc4 is a great option.
Panasonic's most popular lines of shavers include the Arc3, Arc4, and Arc5, with the Arc3 being good "intro"-level shavers, and the Arc5s being the most "sophisticated" or high-tech shavers. The Arc4 is a nice "meet-in-the-middle" selection: it's got four cutting surfaces (that's the "Arc4" aspect of it) on a flexible head, which can bend both to the contours of your face or the contours of your legs. It's got an ergonomic grip, designed to make it easier to grasp when it's wet, and—perhaps the most important aspect of an electric shaver that you're going to use on your face or your legs—it's a waterproof wet/dry shaver, meaning that you can use it in the shower, and you can use it with or without shaving cream.
And, lastly—another important aspect to a shaver you'll use for your face or your legs—it's a great match for whiskers and hairs that lie close to the surface of your skin. Not all body hair grows straight out from the skin, and often times it lies flat and is difficult to cut. The four cutting surfaces are designed to allow the shaver to more accurately target low-lying hairs, which is a benefit no matter what part of your body you're shaving.
Best Foil Shaver All-Around: Two-Way Tie Between a Braun and a Panasonic
There are two foil shavers we consider to be the best all-around. They're slightly higher-end options—they provide a seriously close shave, but they also feature some truly nice perks.
The first is the Braun Series 5 5090/5190cc. Braun releases all of their shavers in a set of "Series"— the original was Series 1, then Series 3, Series 5, Series 7, and now (at the time of this post), the Series 9, the newest set of models. The Series 3 (like the one we reviewed above) is a slightly older model, and it's a good, solid option—but their Series 5 are where Braun really started to make truly exceptional foil shavers. When it came out, it was a quantum leap in terms of capability—it's a wet/dry model that offers a very close shave by using "AutoSense" technology, which basically "reads" the density of your whiskers, and kicks into a higher gear for a thick patch of hair. Those shaving heads are also more flexible—whereas the shaving surfaces on earlier models were stationary, the Series 5 allows the head to flex in 8 different directions, and that's designed to provide a "gentler" shave. When the cutting surface can better adapt to the angles of your face, fewer passes are needed, and that makes it a great option for guys with sensitive skin, because more passes usually = more irritation.
The second model that gets our vote for "Best All Around" is the Panasonic Arc5 Electric Razor. As we mentioned above, the Panasonic line includes the Arc3, Arc4, and Arc5. The Arc5 is one of their top-of-the-line foil shavers, and it features five cutting surfaces angled at 30 degrees. That's a great feature, because that 30-degree angle is the "golden number" when it comes to shaving—if you've read up on wet shaving with a traditional blade, you're probably heard that number a lot. Basically, a 30-degree angle is the most effective angle to attack facial whiskers. That angle allows the shaver to cut whiskers at their base, while not putting too much stress on the skin. A simple feature, but a powerful one, and when you combine it with the other elements of the Arc5—a sensor that "reads" the thickness of whiskers, a flexible head for maneuverability, and a pop-out trimmer—we think it's a very good option for a "do-it-all" foil shaver.
Our Vote for Best High-End Option: Braun Series 7 790cc
As we mentioned earlier, the newest and most high-tech line of Braun shavers is the Series 9. They're incredible foil shavers and we've known them to provide a consistently close, and surprisingly gentle, shave. They're great. But...
They're not our pick for best high-end razor. Our pick for best high-end foil shaver is the Braun Series 7 790cc. It's not the newest, but we think it's the best foil shaver out there.
Here's why. It features:
Four synchronized shaving surfaces (Braun calls them "shaving elements") designed to contour the skin with each pass;
Five different shaving modes, that range from "sensitive" all the way to "turbo," for a shave that can range from very light to very aggressive;
An "ActiveLift" trimmer, that can effectively cut whiskers that are flat or pointing out of the skin in odd directions;
Corded or cordless shaving, with a battery that can last up to 50 minutes after only one hour of charging; and
A precision trimmer for shaping and straightening beards, goatees, mustaches, etc.
We don't want to say that Braun should stop making foil shavers, because we're sure there are some fantastic enhancements that are right around the corner. But if they wanted to call it quits after creating the Series 7 790cc, we'd be OK with that. It's a fantastic model, and one of our favorites. Recommended.
OK! That about wraps it up for our reviews. We promised a more in-depth look at foil shavers—how they work, how to use them, and how to take care of them—so let's dive into that.
What is a Foil Razor, and How Does It Work?
For a lot of guys—especially men who are used to shaving with a regular old cartridge razor—the switch to electric shavers is a bit of jump. It's not complicated to shave with a disposable blade; you basically scrape the blade along your skin and let simple physics remove your whiskers. But electric shavers are a lot more complicated—it's basically a little machine with blades that you're bringing very, very close to your face—and that can be a little bit intimidating.
So, here's a quick intro to foil shavers (and rotary shavers, while we're at it), along with some of the most common questions men have about them. If you've got a pretty good idea of what foils shavers are, feel free to skip this section.
We'll start at the very beginning. There are two main types of electric razors: rotary shavers (that is, electric razors with discs that rotate on the shaver head) and foil shavers (that is, electric razors that have a thin foil on the shaver head).
Rotary shavers have three circular discs at the head of the razor, and there are sharp blades underneath those discs that clip whiskers and shorten beard hair. They look like this:
Foils shavers, on the other hand, have a long, rectangular shaving surface, and they look like this:
The top of the shaver head has a very delicate, very thin layer of metal on it, and that's the actual foil. Here's a closer look at a shaver with foils:
On this model, there's a foil on the top and a foil on the bottom (and a third cutting surface in the middle, which we'll talk about in a minute). Those foils do three things:
they guide whiskers to the oscillating razors beneath the surface of the foils;
they protect your skin from those razors beneath them; and
they feel niiiiiiice and smooth. The tactile sensation of the foil itself is one of the best features of a foil shaver, and manufacturers actually put a lot of effort into making them feel pleasant. They're finely polished, and they glide over the skin ((although sometimes they can get a little hot, if you use your shaver for too long).
We mentioned above that there was a third surface between the two foils. That's a third cutting surface with a different perforation pattern, and it's an effective way to gather errant hairs into the machine to be cut. Old foil shavers only feature those thin foils with circular holes in them, and while they did a good job, the devices had a hard time getting flat-lying whiskers (and whiskers that grow in different directions) into them to be cut. The long, vertical grooves in that middle cutting surface gather "tricky" hairs and cut them effectively.
In general, the more cutting surfaces you find on the head of a foil shaver, the more effective it will be in removing whiskers. Earlier models had one or two cutting surfaces, and then manufacturers developed foils that had three cutting surfaces (like the one above), and some of the newer, high-end foil shavers have five cutting surfaces.
Advantages of a Foil Razor
So now you have a general idea of what a foil razor is, let's take a look at why they're so popular. Here are some of the main reasons they're a great way to get a great shave:
They're a Great Choice for Beginners. If you're new to electric shavers, foils are a place to start. Because the shaving surface on a foil shaver is rectangular, the proper way to use them is in straight lines over your face. "Shave straight" is a pretty simple strategy, even over more the "difficult" areas such as the chin and jawline—simply guide the shaver along your skin in a direct line.
They're Great for Doing Detail-Oriented Shaves. This is also due to the rectangular head—if you want to put a hard edge on a sideburn or a goatee, it's relatively simple to do, because the shaving surface features a straight line. Simply shave to the area where you want a line and stop. It's very, very difficult to do that with rotary shavers, but pretty simple with foils.
They Provide a Really Close Shave. Electric shavers are one of those products that have come a long, long way in recent years. Non-electric razors are pretty simple—they're basically blades, and maybe every couple of years, a shaving company will add a blade onto a cartridge razor. But because electric shavers are little machines, shaving companies are constantly creating new technology to make them more effective and efficient. Braun actually uses sonic technology to "read" the thee-dimensionality of your whiskers, and that's kind of mind-blowing.
The end result of all these technological advances is a seriously close shave. For years, electric shavers had a reputation as second-best—they were fun and easy to use, but if you wanted a truly close shave, you have to use a safety razor or a straight razor or a cartridge razor. That adage may still technically be true (safety razors and straight razors still probably provide the closest shave possible—it's hard to beat a razor directly against the skin), but electric shavers are really getting close, and a close shave with an electric shaver is pretty darn close.
Replacing the Blades is Relatively Easy. The blades of electric shavers have a much longer life than the blades on disposable or cartridge razors. Most disposables need to be tossed after a few uses (and we've written a post here on how you can recycle them), and the same goes for most cartridge razors. After four to six uses, they need to be replaced. And that's one of the best aspects of a foil razor: blades only need to be replaced every year to 18 months (although every model is unique—you'll want to read your owner's manual to find out the most efficient replacement schedule).
What's even better is that the blades are pretty simple to replace. Most foils have a cartridge or area of the head that you remove from the shaver itself, and you simply insert a new cartridge. Rotary shavers are a little more complicated to update with new blades—instead of simply replacing a cartridge, you need to install each individual disc, and that can be a bit of a pain.
Cleaning the Shaver is Also Pretty Simple. As we mentioned above, higher-end foil shavers may come with a charging station that also cleans the shaver. It's a really nice feature, and it accomplishes a lot of different tasks: it removes whiskers and cut hairs from the blades, it lubricates all the different parts of the motor, and it disinfects the razors themselves. If the shave you've got didn't come with a cleaning station, you may be able to buy one separately (but, of course, just be careful to make sure the station is created for the exact model you have).
Not all foil razors come with a cleaning station, but maintenance is still pretty simple, and some models only require you to run the shaver underneath hot water or pop off the head to remove and excess stubble whiskers.
They're Quick. This is, perhaps, one of the best advantages of an electric razor: they provide a very QUICK shave. Above, we mentioned that the closest shave is still probably reserved for safety razors and straight razors. The only problem with those two methods is that they can take a fair bit of time. There's a lot of gear (shaving bowls, shaving brushes, creams, aftershave balms, and so on) and there's a lot of stages (creating a lather, shaving with the grain, across the grain, and then against the grain, applying alum block to nicks and cuts, etc.). But with electric razors, you have the option to bypass all that and shave dry, and that's an incredible time-saver. Bada bing, bada boom, a couple of passes and you're good to go.
You've Got a Lot of Options. There are plenty of rotaries on the market, but it seems like—and this is an informal observation, and not the result of a study—but it seems like there are a lot more options when it comes to foils. Braun makes some great foil shavers, but Remington also has a bunch, as does Panasonic. That's not true for rotaries—Philips Norelco makes some great ones, but outside of their models, it can be slim pickins'.
Foils: The Last Word
There you have it! Our full discussion on foil shavers. If you decide to incorporate a foil into your shaving routine, hopefully there's something on the page that can provide you some guidance. Have fun, and happy shaving!