Melanogenesis is a well-known physiological response of human skin that may occur because of exposure to ultraviolet light, for genetic reasons, or due to other causes. In our efforts to find new skin lightening agents, palmitoleic acid was investigated for its ability to inhibit melanogenesis. In this study, palmitoleic acid's effect on melanin formation was assessed. Results indicated that palmitoleic acid was shown to down-regulate melanin content in a dose-dependent pattern. To clarify the target of palmitoleic acid action in melanogenesis, we performed Western blotting for tyrosinase, tyrosinase-related protein-1 (TRP-1), TRP-2, and microphthalmia-associated transcription factor (MITF), which are key melanogenic enzymes. Palmitoleic acid inhibited tyrosinase, TRP-2, and MITF expressions in a dose-dependent manner. However, it did not inhibit TRP-1 expression. In order to assess its usefulness in future cosmetic product applications, the cytotoxic effects of the palmitoleic acid were also determined by colourimetric MTT assays using human keratinocyte HaCaT cells. Palmitoleic acid exhibited no cytotoxicity at 500 muM in a human cell line. Therefore, this study suggests that palmitoleic acid is a candidate anti-melanogenic agent, and it might be effective in hyperpigmentation disorders.