Retinoic acid (RA) is considered to control melanocytes; however, its precise mechanism remains unclear because of a bimodal effect, which promotes or inhibits melanin synthesis depending on the cell type, culture condition of melanocytes and skin conditions. In this study, we examined the effects of RA throughout each stage of differentiation of melanocytes using a mouse embryonic stem cell culture system to induce melanocytes. The results showed that RA has significantly different effects depending on the stage of differentiation of melanocytes. More specifically, RA promoted differentiation in earlier stages, wherein embryonic stem cells became melanoblasts via neural crest cells, and inhibited differentiation in later stages, wherein melanoblasts became melanocytes. It was revealed for the first time that melanocytes show markedly different reactions to RA depending on the stage of differentiation.